While Matteo Salvini’s party refrains from commenting the expulsion of two Russian spies, his right-wing allies (Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia) take a step back from Moscow

In the wake of deteriorating relations between Europe and Russia, Italy’s right-wing forces are putting some distance between themselves and the Kremlin. By extension, they are also divorcing the pro-Russia positions of Italy’s most powerful Russophile, Matteo Salvini, and his nationalist party, the League.

Tensions between Rome and Moscow rose a notch after two Russians spies were expelled from Italy last week, following their attempt to obtain classified NATO documents – which foreign minister Luigi Di Maio called a “hostile act.” Mario Draghi’s government reacted more firmly than its predecessors, in line with the PM’s expressed commitment to Europeanism and Atlanticism.

That happened in the wider context of West-Russia frictions over coordinated sanctions, human rights (with regards to jailed opposer-in-chief Alexei Navalny), foreign interference (Ukraine and Libya, as well as West-wide Russian disinformation campaigns), economic interests (such as the contested Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline) and vaccine diplomacy.

Formiche.net reached out to Andrea Delmastro, an MP sitting in the House’s foreign affairs committee and belonging to Brothers of Italy, a right-wing party and the only major force at the opposition.

Mr Delmastro called the Cold War-like Roman spy drama “an extremely serious episode,” and remarked his party’s firm position on the matter. “I was shocked to hear [Mr] Di Maio express his hope that [the episode] would not compromise bilateral relations,” he said, “a hostile act such as this must have an impact.”

The MP criticised Italy’s wider idleness on Moscow, starting with Russian-Ukrainian tensions, where Washington already expressed its commitment to Kiev – and where Italy did not speak up. Mr Draghi is doubtlessly an Atlanticist, he commented, but he has to deal with a majority that’s divided on “all major foreign policy dossiers, from international security to energy procurement.”

His and other party colleagues’ remarks underscore a significant distance from the League’s positions, as Mr Salvini and his crew refrained from commenting the spy drama. The two parties belong to the same centre-right coalition together with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, but the League remains the only force to openly support Moscow.

The situation is evident with regard to the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which Mr Salvini is pushing to adopt despite the lack of European or Italian approval and its negligible impact on Italy’s vaccination drive even if it were approved hastily.

Elio Vito, a Forza Italia MP and member of Parliament’s intelligence committee who recently spoke with Formiche.net, warned against Sputnik production deals and suggested that Italy “remain firmly in the European and Atlanticist field.”

Both Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia had nurtured Russian ties in the past. However, given the widening rift between Moscow and the West, they have been correcting their course so as to clear the air and put their Euro-Atlanticist commitment beyond doubt.

Their choices stride even more with the League’s in light of Mr Salvini technically being the leader of the right-wing coalition, as well as an aspiring PM. While the formers reinforce their belonging to the geopolitical West, the latter is becoming isolated in an increasingly maverick position.

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