The Daily Telegraph

Salvini accused of backing Putin as he calls for end to EU sanctions

- By James Kilner

MATTEO SALVINI, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, yesterday called for an end to sanctions on Russia that are leaving citizens “on their knees” because of higher energy bills.

“Several months have passed and people are paying two, three, even four times more for their bills,” he told RTL radio. “And after seven months, the war continues and Russian Federation coffers are filling with money.”

Skyrocketi­ng energy prices since the start of the war in Ukraine have inflicted economic pain on countries in the European Union which before the war had been reliant on Russia for a large chunk of their gas supplies.

Mr Salvini, who is likely to enter government as part of a hard-right coalition after Italy’s elections later this month, reiterated his comments during a debate at an economic forum being held in Cernobbio, northern Italy.

“We need a European shield” to protect businesses and families, as during the Covid pandemic, Mr Salvini told delegates. “If we want to go ahead with the sanctions, let’s do it, we want to protect Ukraine – but I would not want that to mean that instead of harming the sanctioned, we harm ourselves.”

A day earlier he had tweeted that “those who have been sanctioned are winners and those who put the sanctions in place are on their knees”.

“It’s evident that someone in Europe has made a bad calculatio­n. It is essential to rethink the strategy to save jobs and businesses in Italy,” he said.

Following Mr Salvini’s comments, Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party and one of his main adversarie­s ahead of parliament­ary elections on Sept 25, retorted: “I think Putin couldn’t have said it better.”

He later told reporters on the sidelines of the forum on the banks of Lake Como that they were “irresponsi­ble” statements which “risk causing very serious damage to Italy, to our reliabilit­y and to our role in Europe”.

“When I hear Salvini talk about sanctions, I feel like I’m listening to Putin’s propaganda.” Links between Mr Salvini and Moscow have raised concerns in Italy, particular­ly since the invasion of Ukraine.

But Giorgia Meloni – the hard-right prime ministeria­l hopeful whose Brothers of Italy party has formed an alliance with Mr Salvini’s anti-immigratio­n League – has taken a clear position in favour of support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.

“If Italy lets go of its allies, for Ukraine nothing changes, but for us a lot changes. A serious nation that wants to defend its interests must take a credible position,” she told delegates in Cernobbio.

Meanwhile, on Saturday thousands of Czechs protested in Prague against the EU and its support for Ukraine, handing the Kremlin a propaganda coup.

The protest was organised by farright and far-left fringe parties amid anger over fast-rising inflation. Protesters held placards saying “This is not our war” and posters of Petr Fiala, the centre-right prime minister, wearing a Stars and Stripes top hat, a Nato-branded tie and a shirt in Ukrainian colours.

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