The Italian public suffers from so much scandal fatigue that yet another one barely registersby Tobias Jones / August 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
Last autumn, three Italians travelled to Moscow to broker a deal for discounted oil. Among the group was Gianluca Savoini, a former spokesman for, and a close ally of, the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini. The profits of the oil deal—estimated at €58m—would be used to boost the coffers of Salvini’s far-right Lega Party. But two undercover Italian journalists were also present in the hotel, and someone was secretly recording the encounter. That recording emerged in June, and Savoini is now under investigation by Italian magistrates for breaking party-funding laws.
Salvini—arguably Italy’s most powerful politician—was on an official visit to Moscow at the time of as the meeting. He has refused to give a full account of his movements, and many Italian newspapers claim that Salvini secretly met Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s deputy prime minister. Salvini hasn’t answered questions on the subject, calling inquiring journalists “rude.”
Salvini has been open, however, about his admiration of Vladimir Putin. In 2017 his Lega Party signed a co-operation accord with Putin’s United Russia. He has posed for photographs wearing a T-shirt showing the Russian leader’s face both in Red Square and inside the European Parliament. On the latter occasion, in November 2015, he announced he would exchange two Sergio Mattarellas (the Italian president) for half a Putin. He has said of Russia: “I feel at home here, unlike in some European countries.”
This fawning relationship between Salvini and Putin was forged by two men. One was Savoini, himself married to a Russian and, prior to his Lega affiliations, on the fringes of various neo-Nazi parties. The other is the prolific fascist writer (and former adviser to various figures in Putin’s regime) Aleksandr Dugin, who interviewed Salvini in 2016 and is a frequent visitor to Italian salons. His notion of “Eurasianism”—of a new continent centred on Moscow—has attracted far-right nationalists across Europe who are drawn to Russia’s macho opposition to multiculturalism, gay rights, the EU and Islam.
Italy’s far right has been seduced more than most. A constellation of Italian fascists has been drawn to Moscow over the last decade. In March 2015, Roberto Fiore, founder of the neo-fascist party Forza Nuova, attended the “International Russian Conservative Forum” in St Petersburg alongside the BNP’s Nick Griffin and…