Will a right-wing victory push Italy to Russia? | Election News

When Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected to a fourth term in 2018, several right-wing leaders in Italy were quick to pass on their congratulations.

“The will of those in these Russian elections is clear,” Giorgia Melonithe head of the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, said on social media at the time.

That comment has surfaced in recent weeks, as Meloni is poised to become Italy’s first female prime minister, after fall Mario Draghi’s government has triggered a national election scheduled for Sunday.

Italy’s Brotherhood Party is likely to emerge as the largest political camp and form a right-wing coalition government with Silvio Berlusconi’s League of Matteo Salvini and Forza Italia.

The prospect of an alliance with parties with historically friendly relations with Russia is raising fears that Rome could move closer to Moscow, at a time when Europe is doing all it can to put an end to it. stop Invasion of Ukraine.

“This debate is a legitimate one,” Aldo Ferrari, head of the Russia program at the Institute of International Political Studies (ISPI), told Al Jazeera. “But the importance of [their ties with Moscow] being over-hyped and used in the election campaign as a theme to fight against the enemy. “

Meloni’s main rival didn’t hesitate to sound the alarm.

Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, describes himself as a candidate fighting “for an Italy that will be at the heart of Europe”.

“On the international stage, the happiest people if Giorgia Meloni wins would be Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and in Europe Viktor Orban,” said Letta, referring to the former US president, Russian and Hungarian leader. Nationalist, Moscow-friendly. Top.

Meloni sought to assuage concerns by condemning Russia’s “unacceptable large-scale act of war” and underscoring Rome’s ties to the European Union and NATO.

“We will be the guarantors of Italy’s position and our full support for the heroic fight of the Ukrainian people,” Ms Meloni said at her party headquarters last month.

According to ISPI’s Ferrari, Meloni has “taken a clear stance on Ukraine” and concerns about relations with Russia are running high.

“I don’t see the possibility of changing her position,” he said.

Giorgia Meloni speaks during a rally in Milan.
The emblem of Giorgia Meloni’s party consists of a tricolor flame borrowed from its neo-fascist ancestors [File: Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters]

Information campaign

Meanwhile, the election comes after suggestions that foreign actors may have tried to interfere with voting campaigns.

COPASIR, the parliamentary committee that oversees national intelligence agencies, raised the possibility of disinformation, cyberattacks and political and economic pressure emerging from Russia, saying Italy was at risk. opportunity to become “the key to breaking Europe’s Atlanticism”.

A report prepared by the committee warned of a “low-intensity war” going on alongside the conflict in Ukraine.

“This is a hybrid war in cyberspace that justifies taking every measure to protect our digital systems,” it said.

Fabio Giglietto, head of the Italian Map News Italy research program at the University of Urbino, said that while misinformation is not new, it pays off in election time.

“We are particularly concerned about strategies that are difficult to observe because they take place away from the political sphere,” Giglietto told Al Jazeera.

Among them are Facebook groups that have a non-political purpose — religious groups, for example — but are used to reach malleable voters.

“If I try to reach people who are already involved in politics, it will be difficult for me to change their views. Whereas if I had a page dedicated to religion, people would be more receptive and I could reach them when they are not prepared to protect themselves from outside influence,” said Giglietto.

According to him, fake Facebook accounts pose less of a problem than spreading fake or misleading information.

While the Brothers of Italy adopts a more conciliatory tone in its official campaign, the ideas circulating on social media by its supporters often match those of the nationalist movement. far-right”, such as deep distrust of politicians, fear of a hegemonic left-wing culture and the “war” over free speech.

“Regardless of how they present themselves, these appeals point to their idea of ​​being on the far right, not the moderates,” says Giglietto.

Dark past

While the Italian Brothers have attempted to integrate themselves into the cultural and political mainstream, critics point to the party’s origins, dating back to the Italian Socialist Movement founded after the Second World War by the Italians. supported the executed leader Benito Mussolini, founder of the National Fascist Party.

In a campaign video message, Meloni asserts that Italy’s political right has “given fascism to history”.

However, the party is represented to this day by a neo-fascist symbol, a tricolor flame, and considers several of Mussolini’s descendants as direct allies, including Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, the great-grandson of the leader religion, who is the Brother of Italy. candidate in the European Parliament in 2019.

Meloni’s allies have also come under scrutiny following allegations of illegal financing from the Kremlin.

Salvini has repeatedly denied wrongdoing after an audio recording was leaked in 2019 of one of his aides discussing a secret oil deal in Moscow.

Berlusconi, who is set to reappear after the ban on public office was lifted, is known to be friends with Putin, the couple has been staying at each other’s motels.

After Draghi’s death in July, foreign minister Luigi Di Maio accused the Russian leader of working to “destabilize Italy and Europe”.

Italian media reported that the Federation of Salvini and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia were in contact with the Russian embassy weeks before they withdrew their support for Draghi’s government, a move that ultimately led to its downfall. of it, fueling speculation that the Kremlin might meddle in Italian politics. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Last week, a US intelligence report that claimed Russia had spent $300 million on political parties in more than 12 countries stirred up Italy’s election campaign and prompted right-wing leaders to quickly refuse to accept the claim. secret cash.

Adolfo Urso, a senior Italian Brotherhood politician who is also head of COPASIR told state broadcaster RAI that “at this moment” there is no indication that Italy is among the recipients. .

According to ISPI’s Ferrari, Draghi’s demise was “welcomed” by Russia.

But while right-wing parties of the past found allies in Russia on points of view including national sovereignty, the current political climate is quite different.

“The invasion of Ukraine has now made a change for Moscow inevitable,” he said.

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