US media is reporting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forces Italy to rethink its historic ties to Russia, exposing a fissure over attitudes to Moscow that runs through Italian business, politics, and society at large. According to a Bloomberg report:
June 25, 2022 “Italy has always been, if not the friendliest country for Russia in western Europe, then the most sympathetic,” said Elena Maslova, senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Italian entrepreneurs are famous for their flexibility and inventiveness in dealing with Russia,” she added. But now “it could get much more difficult for them.” […] As recently as January, when Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s border was clear, Italian executives shrugged off an appeal from the government in Rome and held a conference call with Putin on investment prospects. The head of the Russian branch of Bonomi’s Confindustria lobby was one of the few western Europeans at the St. Petersburg forum earlier this month. […] Under the government’s guidance, state-owned companies have performed a dramatic U‑turn on Russia. Enel SpA sold its remaining stake in its Russian unit this month, a dramatic reversal for the Italian utility, which had been betting heavily on Russia since the early 2000s.
Read the rest here.
The Bloomberg report cites a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations, which says Italians are the least likely to blame Russia for the war, are the most in favor of finding a quick peace regardless of whether it means territorial losses for Ukraine, and display the greatest opposition to Ukraine’s accession to the European Union. The report also cites a political risk consultant who says that Russia has “a very comprehensive and diverse network of supporters across Italy” and that “this network will not be swept away overnight.”
The Global Influence Operations Report recently reported that a complex pro-Russian network is trying to influence public opinion in Italy, identifying some of the most important pro-Russian figures in Italy. Other recent GIOR reporting on Russia’s influence in Italy has included:
- In May, we reported that pro-Russian media coverage in Italy had triggered the launch of a parliamentary inquiry to investigate whether some Russian commentators appearing on Italian TV networks could be on Putin’s payroll.
- In March, we reported on leaked emails and documents showing how Russian influence group Tsargrad is cooperating with Matteo Salvini, the former Italian deputy prime minister, interior minister, and current leader of the far-right Lega party.
- In February, we reported that Matteo Renzi, former prime minister of Italy, had resigned from the board of Russia’s largest car-sharing service following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.