The resignation of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, after his fractionated ruling alliance melted away due to infighting, is undoubtedly a major jolt for the political spectrum of this country which has been witnessing one of the world’s longest volatility in the postwar era – 19 prime ministers in 33 years. Mario Draghi, the highly respected former European Central Bank chief, admired for his instrumental role in saving the single currency in the Eurozone crisis of 2012, certainly brought a totally new element of stability in Italian politics with his trade-mark tranquility and a gravitas to tackle Italy’s problems.
Two kinds of reactions are being witnessed over Draghi’s sudden departure: inside the country, recent opinion polls suggest that overwhelmingly majority of Italians want Draghi to stay in office to steer Italy through its economic and geopolitical challenges and they are very much concerned over his removal from power, while outside the country, Putin is quite happy with the removal of Draghi from the scene which has paved the way for the pro-Moscow political elements in Italy to gain power. Italy is among select-few Western European countries, where pro-Russia political forces have a reasonable clout and Putin needs such supportive voices in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. The dissolution of Italy’s government is being considered a major win for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Western Europe.
Draghi has acted as a major resistance to Putin’s influence in Italy and Europe, while his other three coalition partners who are responsible for Draghi’s downfall are considered to be the sympathizer of the Russian dictator. Giuseppe Conte, the head of what remains of the rapidly dwindling Five Star Movement have openly spoken in favor of the removal of sanctions against Russia and called for Moscow’s return to the G8 in 2018. Five Star’s close links to Russia date back to the Crimea annexation in 2014. League leader Matteo Salvini’s support for Putin is also a known fact: in 2017 Salvini’s League signed a formal cooperation agreement with Putin’s party United Russia.
Media reports also suggest that funds were allegedly funneled from Russia to the League involving men close to Salvini and Putin – a judicial inquiry for international corruption is already being conducted on this controversy. At the same time, Forza Italia’s head, Silvio Berlusconi, is known as an old buddy of Vladimir Putin.
They have hosted each other in their holiday homes and both were close supporters of each other on the international scene when Berlusconi was Italian prime minister in the 2000s. The two leaders also have allegedly joint commercial interests. After the invasion of Ukraine, Salvini’s condemnation was very vague “all military aggressions”, and only after some pressure from the Italian public he acknowledged that “Russia is wrong”, but barely ever mentioned Putin’s name since then. Similarly, Berlusconi was completely mute for a month and a half after the Ukraine invasion before saying that he was “deeply disa
Conte’s condemnation of the Russian invasion has been also equally fuzzy, but his recent position against sending more arms to has been obviously construed as a sign of soft support for Russia. Draghi’s exit has emerged as a plus point for Putin, but still a lot depends on the results of the forthcoming elections in September.
There is no doubt that Mario Draghi was the first person in decades who brought the stability to Italian politics and economy. There are ample reasons to believe that Draghi’s stint was scuttled indirectly by Vladimir Putin through his “friends” in the ruling alliance who refused to support Draghi in the no-confidence motion. His cross-party coalition was quite successful in steadying a faltering vaccination drive and managed a vigorous economic rebound from 2020’s GDP shrinkage of 9 per cent as well as convinced Brussels to approve €200bn to support his economic reform agenda from the EU Covid recovery funds. But he appeared increasingly frustrated by the complexity of coalition negotiations over his proposed reforms, which included updating property registers to improve tax collection, auctioning lucrative beach concessions and a new competition law.
His gristly aggressive stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was also one of the key reasons for cajoling his coalition partners to desert him. Though there is no concrete and tangible evidence to corroborate the rumors that Moscow was pulling the strings from the behind to ensure the collapse of the Draghi government, but it is also a fact that Putin is one of the main beneficiaries of this episode in Italy.