Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, called on Sunday for an end to sanctions against Russia that leave citizens “on their knees” over 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 the treasury of the Russian Federation is overflowing with money.”
The skyrocketing energy prices since the start of the war in Ukraine have economically hit countries in the European Union, which before the war for a large part of its gas supply depended on Russia.Read:Turkey coalmine blast leaves at least 22 dead with dozens still trapped | Turkey
Salvini, who is likely to enter government as part of a hard-right coalition after Italian elections later in September, doubled down on his comments during a debate at an economic forum in Cernobbio, northern Italy.
“We need a European shield to protect businesses and families, like during the Covid pandemic,” Salvini told delegates at the forum.
“If we want to continue with the sanctions, let’s do it, we want to protect Ukraine – but I wouldn’t want this to mean harming ourselves instead of harming the sanctioned,” he said.
‘Someone made a bad calculation’
A day earlier, he had tweeted that “those who have been sanctioned are winners and those who have introduced the sanctions are on their knees.Read:Goondiwindi motorists unleash over major mistake on road sign
“It is clear that someone in Europe has made a bad calculation. It is essential to rethink the strategy to save jobs and companies in Italy,” he said.
Following Mr Salvini’s comments, Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party and one of his main opponents for the September 25 parliamentary election, replied on Twitter: “I don’t think Putin could have said it better.”
He later told reporters on the sidelines of the forum on the shores of Lake Como that they were “irresponsible” statements that “could cause very serious damage to Italy, our reliability and our role in Europe.
“When I hear Salvini talk about sanctions, I feel like I’m listening to Putin’s propaganda.”
The ties between Mr Salvini and Moscow have raised concerns in Italy, especially since the invasion of Ukraine.
But Giorgia Meloni, the hopeful right-wing prime minister whose Brothers of Italy party has formed an alliance with Salvini’s anti-immigration league, has taken a firm stance in favor of aiding Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.
“If Italy lets go of its allies for Ukraine, nothing will change, but a lot will change for us. A serious country that wants to defend its interests must take a credible position,” she told the forum.Read:Tragic tale of former foster child aged just 19 who’s hooked on fentanyl in San Francisco
Anger over rapidly rising inflation
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 organized by far-right and far-left fringe parties that have tapped into anger over soaring inflation.
“The Czech Republic needs a Czech government,” said Zuzana Majerova Zahradnikova, head of the Tricolor, one of the organizers of the protest. “Fiala’s government may be Ukrainian, maybe Brussels, but certainly not Czech.”
Protesters carried placards that read “This is not our war” and posters of Petr Fiala, the center-right prime minister, wearing an American-style top hat, NATO-branded tie and shirt in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
For Russian news channels, an important part of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, the protests were one of the top stories of the day and were constantly repeated.
The Kremlin has used its dominance over Europe’s gas supply to pursue its version of “total war”, which includes cutting off supplies. This week it said its Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Europe was damaged and would be shut down indefinitely.
Witnesses said an estimated 70,000 people poured into Wenceslas Square in the heart of Prague for the protest, the day after the government survived a no-confidence vote.
The Czech government was an outspoken supporter of Ukraine’s fight against Russia, and Fiala blamed the Kremlin’s propaganda for influencing protesters.
“Obviously, Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns are repeatedly appearing on our territory and someone just succumbs to it,” he said.