Alberto de Filippis is a journalist and analyst at Euronews, specializing in reporting on hybrid warfare, Latin America, and, for the last decade, Ukraine. He has been studying Russian foreign policy for years, and one of the things he finds most fascinating is Moscow’s capacity to “adapt” its interventions and operations to the individual characteristics of various nations.
Moscow backs authoritarian regimes in Africa, far-left governments in Latin America, and non-nationalist political parties in Europe. He believes that instability is Moscow’s ultimate goal. This explains why Moscow not only works with the Cuban regime and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, but also with Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, the new head of French nationalism, in France. He is confident that there is proof indicating that Russia has engaged with the French yellow vest movement, the journalist said in the interview with Channel 24.
In Europe, populism is “popular.” In several EU nations, populist parties win elections… Regrettably, Italy is hardly an exception. What is your opinion on the Brothers of Italy party’s participation in the Italian elections?
Matteo Salvini, the Five Star Movement (which in principle was founded as an anti-system party) and pro-Brexit groups like Farage’s are among Putin’s allies in Italy. Not to be forgotten is Silvio Berlusconi, who has always defended Vladimir Putin despite his efforts to portray himself as a moderate. However, Putin interacts with the extreme left in Italy as well in an effort to support anti-NATO and anti-Brussels initiatives.
Russia has relations with the anti-immigration AFD party in Germany, but it also used former Chancellor Schroeder to persuade the Social Democrats to vote on a number of policies that would strengthen Germany’s ties with Putin’s Russia.
“I would like to give you an illustration of Russian strategy. Italian is mostly spoken in Italy and in the Ticino region of Switzerland. Here for years Aleksandr Dugin, one of Vladimir Putin’s closest ideologues and a competent Italian speaker, has organized gatherings with radicals on both the right and left, relying on their loathing for NATO and the European Union. On the right, Dugin asserts that Europe must be white, and Christian, and decisions must be made in Moscow. On the left, he claims that American imperialism must be challenged. Moscow’s tactics are absolutely across the board.”
After these clarifications, let’s get back to Italy, which I think is special in Europe. The population is predicted to be halved in a hundred years, while the over-60s will make up the majority in 15 years. For at least 15 years, Russia has been actively spreading misinformation throughout the nation, mostly through social networks and partnerships with various parties. Russian propaganda has also persuaded Italians that they are impoverished and that their economy (which in reality is much superior to Russia’s) is weak, contributing to the nation’s political instability.
It, of course, is stated to be the fault of the European Union. The propaganda has been consistent, covert, and compelling. It has been observed, for instance, that many anti-vaccine websites in Italy have evolved into pro-invasion websites. Internationally and locally, the Italian media substantially lacks credibility and Russia has benefited from this. The few journalists that dare to report the truth about Ukraine are frequently mocked. Later, they are threatened. On television, a lot of Kremlin propagandists appear, including Piotr Fyodorov, the former president of Euronews Russia. Those self-proclaimed experts have been arguing for months that we should simply hand over control of Ukraine to Putin because he has already won.
The Italian parties, who lack public trust due to the economic crisis, are now compelled to rely on Mario Draghi’s technocratic government. Atlanticist, pro-European, and in favor of providing Ukraine with military assistance. He was elected to lead a coalition government made up entirely of Putin’s allies. For instance, Conte, the leader of the Fifteen, claims that we shouldn’t arm Ukraine, Salvini, who opposes sanctions, or Berlusconi, who just said that Putin is a victim and that he did not want to start a war. Even the green movement has been compromised. All efforts in Italy in recent years to provide the nation with at least some degree of energy independence have been opposed.
Contrarily, Fratelli d’Italia is a composite movement. Even if there are many ex-fascists there, their leader is the only one with any recognition from the public. FDI consists of a variety of people, from fascist nostalgics to genuine conservative democrats, from Atlanticists to anti-Europeans. The party has developed significantly and appears to lack a trained leadership class. However, Giorgia Meloni, the party’s head, is aware that if she continued to advance an anti-European sovereignist version, she would face opposition from the chancelleries of France and Germany. She gives a show of power for Brussels to keep the party together, but she also communicates with Biden’s envoys and has stated out loud that Ukraine has to be supported.
“Italy, for better or worse, has always been a political laboratory, and surprises may come out of this election as well. Matteo Salvini seems to have lost a lot of support. Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party, is in crisis. We could also have a very large coalition government.”
Numerous “right-wing” parties, like the Fratelli d’Italia in Italy, the Rassemblement national (Marine Le Pen) in France, and the AFD in Germany, are said to have ties to Russians. Does this imply that the people in these nations are unaware of this connection?
In Italy, there is a generational gap. I think there are generations that are hopelessly misinformed about the multipolar world and are terrified of it. Many individuals over 40 support Putin because they are drawn to strong men, enjoy blaming the United States, NATO, or Europe, and refuse to acknowledge that Italy may have been living past its means for years or that you need to adjust to a changing world. Furthermore, the Italian media is a complete failure. People no longer read newspapers, and on television, they let in pro-Putin propagandists because, as the argument goes, “you have to give everyone a chance to speak.”It’s similar to saying that during the Nazi era we should have allowed not just the Jews, but also the Nazis, who had their own reasons, to speak.
“Russia has discovered that using information warfare is more effective and less expensive than using physical force. A tank costs more than a hundred trolls. If any of your editors are fluent in French, they may check out French news websites to find that the majority of those who support Putin now are Africans. Probably due to the fact that francophones are common in Africa. They speak French and are inexpensive.
You questioned me about the data in Italy. Another example that I’d like to tell you would have triggered an upheaval in any other nation, but not in Italy.”
We at Euronews learned a few years ago that Italian police and government agencies had an exclusive arrangement with the Russian antivirus Kasperski. Although Kasperski produces quality items, we had a straightforward inquiry: where are the servers that store the data of Italian customers? Overseas or in Russia? We did so because Russian legislation allows the FSB and GRU to request access to private information. I’ll say it again: Kasperski, a company that delivers really high-quality services, refused to respond to our inquiries and even threatened to sue the European experts who voiced them.
The critical information of the Italian government is held by a business from a hostile nation, and nothing is done about it. The Italian media remained silent.
Recent polls indicate that the Fratelli d’Italia will soon take control. How do you feel about the idea of this new government?
The head of the Fratelli d’Italia, Giorgia Meloni, has a lot of adversaries but the worst ones are her allies. Meloni is still being undermined by Salvini and Berlusconi, and it’s uncertain whether she’ll be the next government’s premier. Who will serve as the executive branch’s chief is a decision made by the republic’s president. The choice of Meloni should be made by Mattarella, the Italian president, but if FDI does not have a strong majority, things might change and Italy might continue to have this ambiguous stance toward Ukraine.
In reality, it should be noted that Italy delivers extremely little weaponry to Kyiv in comparison to other European nations, and Zelensky’s backing from several parties is by no means guaranteed. Even the recent visit of Urso, chairman of Copasir, Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic, received little coverage in the Italian media. In fact, the pro-Putin media made it clear that it wasn’t an official visit but rather a casual one. This was done to minimize its significance.
A few weeks ago, Copasir predicted the presence of at least four Russian “pundits” who frequently share pro-Putin propaganda on Italian television talk shows and are paid for their opinions by the Kremlin. Copasir was targeted because his statement threatened the freedom of the press and expression. Due to his close relationship with Giorgia Meloni, Urso was also attacked.
Our information indicates that certain Fratelli d’Italia members visited occupied areas in violation of the law and openly supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A few of its senior leaders, including Adolfo Urso, visited Kyiv last week and expressed support at the same time. What could it mean?
The party has many souls and many currents. Members of the FDI visited the illegitimate Donbass republic back in 2017. Unquestionably, there are FDI proponents who embrace the invasion. They are individuals who have been tolerated by the party and have contributed significantly to it. They were awarded for their excellent job on the ground. Meloni must now realize that you cannot continue to sit on two chairs. You can’t support both Kyiv and Moscow. Whether the party will have the courage to select the side that supports Kyiv has to be seen, and I’m not sure.
Special services from EU nations are aware of the collaboration (funding, bribes, etc.) between these nationalist groups and the Russian Secret Service but take no action. Why?
“First off, Italy has an extremely challenging journalistic environment. A journalist who accuses a politician of “intelligence with the enemy” runs the possibility of facing a legal lawsuit for damages, which may destroy him. For this reason, a lot of journalists self-censor. We are now in the midst of the Italian elections. The parties are concerned about losing any remaining votes because of the announced high abstention rate. Because of this, nothing is happening. Additionally, TV in Italy is struggling financially, so they host discussions where they know they will welcome pro-Putin propagandists.”
There will be social network reactions, which will attract attention and advertising money. Italian TV is arguably the worst in Europe for this reason as well. Do you need another example? The Russians volunteered to send physicians to Italy in the Covid era, when Giuseppe Conte, the leader of the cinquestelle, was in charge. Later investigations revealed that the Russian party had a sizable number of GRU personnel who attempted to breach Italian bases. Fortunately, the plot didn’t work, but Italy barely reacted.
You see, In France, where I reside, Macron has implemented a crucial safety measure despite opposition. From a humanitarian perspective, France offers assistance to Ukrainian immigrants as a country, in striking contrast to Italy, where private citizens and the Ukrainian community that previously existed in Italy are leading the way. Moscow, seeing that Italy was the weakest link in Europe, has been waging an extensive misinformation campaign for at least 15 years. The experts who pass in Italy would not pass on video in any other European country, maybe not even in Hungary. Although they have no credibility, they frequently appear on Italian television and claim what? That they are being silenced.