Italy’s Matteo Salvini declares himself champion of Ukrainian refugees – POLITICO

ROME – Italy’s far-right Matteo Salvini fire brigade is trying to reinvent itself as an unlikely savior for Ukrainian refugees. But it is more likely due to political considerations than a change of heart.

Russia’s invasion has confounded Europe’s far-right politicians, who have become embroiled in an identity crisis as they try to reconcile past ties with Russia and praise Vladimir Putin with public sympathy for Ukraine.

Most of the European right-wing figures – from Thierry Baudet in the Netherlands to Alice Weidel in Germany and Eric Zemmour in France – have tried to justify their pro-Russian views, blaming NATO expansion for the conflict. conflict and said the Kremlin had no choice but to act the way it did.

However, the leader of the League party in Italy condemned the Russian aggression, and went to the Ukrainian border to greet the refugees, pledging to bring them to Italy. Salvini visited a refugee reception center in Przemyśl, near Poland’s border with Ukraine, where he announced that 50 refugees leaving by bus would be handled by the local authorities managed by the Federation in Italian reception.

The former Home Secretary, who built his success by hard-line rhetoric against migrants, and is now on trial for blocking migrant ships from docking in a Mediterranean port while he was in power, then pledge that there will be an additional fleet of these trucks and minibuses. Will ship at the weekend”The more children and families the better” Arriving in Italy. A representative of the Federation said the convoy would be sponsored and organized by the party.

During his visit, Salvini also tried to distance himself from Putin. When asked if he would condemn the Russian leader, he speak: “Certainly, obviously, we condemn war, anyone would condemn war and aggression.”

It was a far cry from his previous stance. The federation opposes sanctions against Russia after its annexation of Crimea in 2014 on the grounds that the country caused damage to Italian exports. Salvini twice wore a T-shirt with Putin’s image, once to the European Parliament saying that Putin is more democratic than the EU. The league also signed a partnership agreement with Putin’s party, United Russia, in 2017. In 2019, Salvini identified Putin as “one of the best men in government in the world”.

Not everyone buys this face.

Elio Vito, an MP for the centre-right Forza Italia party, called Salvini’s mission “a sad sight”. Filippo Rossi, leader of the small anti-populist party La Buona Destra, said it was “a farce… aimed at eradicating [the memory] about the friendship over the years with Putin, which stands to this day as a model of leadership and government. “

Marco di Maio, an MP for the centre-right Italia Viva party, said: “I feel ashamed for him, that he has the courage to present himself in Poland and pretend that he has never been. is the point of reference for Putin in Europe.” Salvini’s contradictions “demonstrate the powerlessness and inconsistency of populism and nationalism,” he added.

But some analysts see a method to help Salvini make clear.

One reason he seems to soften the Federation’s stance on refugees is to associate himself with ordinary Italians, said Lorenzo Pregliasco of You Trend polling agency. A significant number of Italians have close personal relationships with the approximately 250,000 Ukrainians working in Italy, mainly as carers and nannies. “He is trying to reach the public, which is mostly Italians who are sympathetic to the Ukrainians,” Ms. Pregliasco said.

And with elections scheduled for spring 2023, political parties are already in campaign mode.

Daniele Albertazzi, a professor of politics at the University of Surrey, said: “The obvious instinctive approach for Salvini would be . . . ‘Okay, they need help but don’t get the wrong person wrong’. But Salvini is coming under pressure from right-wing opponents, the Italian Brothers, who are gaining ground.

Since the Italian Brotherhood has taken a moderate stance on this issue, clearly siding with Ukraine and advocating refugee immigration, Salvini needs to be more moderate so as not to position himself on the far right in politics. . .

“Salvini is trying to position herself as a more moderate base of the center of power,” Ms. Pregliasco said.

“In this regard, both are worried about not being ignored by the other,” said Albertazzi, explaining that every vote counts. If the right-wing coalition consisting of Meloni, Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi wins the election, whoever gets the most votes will lead the government.

But repositioning the Federation after 10 years of pro-Russia will not be easy for Salvini. His trip to Poland was partly counterproductive (Mayor Wojciech Bakun of Przemyśl said he found the trip disrespectful), at least as an attempt to distract from discussion of the connection. of the League with Putin’s party.

His support for EU sanctions on Russia may even turn out to be short-sighted, especially if these measures, especially for the energy sector, negatively impact voters. .

It is also possible that the ever-changing Salvini, confident of brief voter memories, will soon reverse his stance, at least on migrants.

Albertazzi predicts that when sea-crossing migrants from North Africa start to return in the spring, Federation leadership will return to complaining about the arrival of economic migrants, with the advantage of being able to say that he’s not against all refugees, just the unfair ones. system abuse.

“He knew that Christian and white refugees from Ukraine were significantly more accepted by Italians than young men from Tunisia… He was very intelligent. Humans have a short memory. Instead of fighting, he’s showing his good side and next time he can come back with bad behavior.” Italy's Matteo Salvini declares himself champion of Ukrainian refugees - POLITICO

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