On 16 June, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travelled to Kiev to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The message was a promise to supply Ukraine with more heavy weapons and to raise the prospect of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (“EU”). On 21 June, Draghi secured the Italian Senate backing to continue supporting Ukraine against Russia.
Below is a compilation of clips made from two of his speeches. The first speech made in Kiev and the second made five days later in Rome.
In Kiev: “EU sanctions against Russia impoverish the EU itself and enrich Russia”
Five days later in Rome: “EU sanctions against Russia are very effective”.
Draghi’s “mixed messages” about EU sanctions against Russia could be taken several ways. Both speeches would need to be heard in their entirety to give the statements context. However, what’s more interesting is how Italy’s stance towards Russia has dramatically changed since the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict earlier this year.
The link between Italy and Russia was increasingly close, wrote Reset Dialogues in March 2019. Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the trust between Russia and the West was not restored. This period proved to be particularly unfavourable for economic relations between Italy and Russia. The total value of trade exchanged between the two countries fell by some 3 billion euros in the four years after 2013, ostensibly because trade relations between the two countries are particularly sensitive to Western sanctions on Russia and Russia’s counter-sanctions.
The economic synergy between Italy and Russia is based on the strong complementarity of their respective economies: while Italy is a leader in the manufacturing sector, Russia is a prominent exporter of hydrocarbons.
Consistent with the approach it has adopted since the end of WWII, Italy tried to mediate between Russia and the West, preferring to address these factors of crisis cooperatively, rather than through confrontation.
Early in the Covid “pandemic” Russia supplied aid to Italy in the form of military doctors, PPE, ventilators and mobile disinfection machines. The mission was set in motion after a phone call between Conte and Vladimir Putin on 21 March 2020 as Italy struggled to get help from EU partners, wrote The Guardian.
So, how did Italy’s stance change from one of long-standing cooperation to confrontation? A review of media reports since February 2022 may provide some clues. But before we list some of them, it’s worth recalling the change in Italy’s leadership in early 2021 as it is significant.
In January 2021, after winning a confidence vote the week before, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, resigned. On 3 February, Mario Draghi, an economist who served from 2011 to 2019 as president of the European Central Bank, accepted a mandate from Italian President Sergio Mattarella to form a new Italian government. On 13 February, Draghi was officially sworn in as prime minister of Italy.
In June 2021, France 24 reported that Draghi had clearly aligned his country with the EU and the Atlantic alliance, with strongly worded messages at the recent G7 and NATO summits that end his predecessors’ ambiguous position towards Russia and China.
A Timeline of Draghi’s Russia-Ukraine War
1 February 2022: Putin, Draghi stress necessity for Kiev’s moves to implement Minsk agreements
Draghi and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone call to discuss the crisis over Ukraine and bilateral relations. The two leaders agreed on the need to find a “sustainable and durable” solution to the Ukrainian crisis and to rebuild a “climate of mutual confidence”
Read more: Tass
The leaders also shared commitment that was made to find a long-term solution to the situation and to rebuild a climate of trust. In the meanwhile, Kremlin also stated that Putin underlined Russia’s resolve to maintain natural gas supplies to Italy.
Read more: Republic World
In Europe, Italy is seen as one of the most dovish countries toward Russia, partly due to strong business ties between the two countries.
In December, Draghi said the EU had few tools of “deterrence” against Russia, noting its military weakness and added that hitting Moscow with tougher economic sanctions, extended to the gas sector, was unthinkable.
“Are we really capable of doing it? Do we have the strength? Is it the right moment? Clearly the answer is ‘no,’” he said, alluding to the energy crisis which has made Europe more dependent on Russian gas imports. Draghi concluded that the only option was to maintain “a state of engagement” with Putin.
Read more: Anadolu Agency
17 February 2022: Russia to increase gas supplies to Italy, Draghi to visit Moscow
Putin told Italy that Russia is ready to increase its gas supplies to the country if needed, the Russian ambassador to Italy Sergey Razov said.
Putin had also invited Draghi to visit Moscow, Razov said, adding that Russia appreciated what he called Italy’s “moderate position” regarding the crisis over Ukraine. Speaking during a visit to Moscow, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy welcomed the invitation.
Read more: Euractiv
Draghi will travel “as soon as possible” to Moscow after an invitation by Putin, Rome’s foreign minister said. “We are coordinating… on a date, as soon as possible,” Di Maio said after talks in Moscow with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Read more: Alarabiya News
23 February 2022: Dialogue key to solving Ukrainian crisis, says Italy’s PM Mario Draghi
Draghi said dialogue was key to solving the Ukrainian crisis, warning that the EU was preparing sanctions against Russia.
His remarks came the day after Putin announced the recognition of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” in east Ukraine’s Donbass region as independent and sovereign states.
Read more: Business Standard
24 February 2022: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Russia launched a full-scale attack from multiple directions on Ukraine on 24 February 2022. In response, NATO deployed troops to member states in the region.
Read more: DW
24 February 2022: Does Draghi have a Russia problem?
Italy was among the handful of countries at a summit in Brussels on the night of 24 February that opposed booting Russia out of the SWIFT international banking payments system. The next morning, Italy was specifically named by former president of the European Council and ex-Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, as among three countries that “disgraced themselves” at the summit for blocking more forceful sanctions against Russia.
Read more: EU Observer
26 February 2022: Italy backs EU bid to cut Russia off from SWIFT
In a tweet, Zelensky said that Draghi “supported Russia’s disconnection from SWIFT, the provision of defence assistance”, describing it as “the beginning of a new page in the history of our states.”
Read more: Wanted in Rome
24 March 2022: Italy’s Draghi urges China to support peace efforts in Ukraine
Draghi urged China not to support Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and to throw its weight behind efforts to bring peace to the country.
Read more: Reuters
31 March 2022: Italy’s Draghi Does Not Expect Halt to Russian Gas Flows
Italy does not expect supplies of gas from Russia to be cut off, Draghi said, indicating that he believed that Russia had stepped back from a demand for payment in roubles.
“No, they are not in danger,” Draghi told a news conference when asked about supplies from Russia, which account for a significant proportion of Italian imports.
Read more: US News
6 April 2022: ‘Peace or air conditioning?’ Italy’s Draghi exposes huge EU shambles over Russia stance
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said there were more EU sanctions to come against Russia. The EU was looking into oil and revenues Russia gets from fossil fuels, she said. But Draghi said that halting gas imports from Russia is not being considered at the EU level, in a move that showed deep divisions in the bloc.
Read more: Express
9 April 2022: Draghi Heads to Algeria as Italy Seeks to Cut Russia Gas Imports
Draghi will visit Algeria on Monday, 11 April, to sign an agreement to ramp up gas imports. Earlier in the week it was reported that Italy was talking to seven countries to secure more gas with some talks “in a very advanced stage”.
Read more: US News
18 April 2022: Talking to Putin is ‘just a waste of time,’ said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi
Draghi expressed frustration with Putin, saying he’s starting to believe it’s “just a waste of time” to engage with his counterpart in Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine.
Draghi spoke of a 30 March telephone call between him and Putin and said the Russian leader had discussed the possibility of Italy buying Russian gas with roubles. The country is said to import 40% of its gas from Russia.
Read more: Business Insider
18 April 2022: Italy can get by without Russian gas, says Mario Draghi
Europe can reduce energy dependence on Russia quicker than previously estimated, Draghi said. “We have gas in storage and will have new gas from other suppliers.”
Read more: Business Live
10 May 2022: Draghi Is Resolute on Russia Sanctions as He Meets Biden
As Draghi prepared to meet US President Joe Biden at the White House on 10 May, he was pushing for the EU to ban Russian oil imports and scrambling to end Italy’s reliance on Russian energy. He also backed sending heavy weapons to Ukraine despite resistance from large parts of his ruling coalition and the country’s historically strong ties to Russia.
Read more: Bloomberg
12 May 2022: Italy’s Draghi plays down risk of Russian gas supply disruption
Draghi said on 11 May he was confident Moscow’s demand that European buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles will not lead to a disruption of supplies. The European Commission warned that complying with Russia’s scheme might breach EU sanctions, but Draghi said it was a “grey zone” with no official ruling on the matter.
Read more: Reuters
26 May 2022: Russia’s Putin, Italy’s Draghi discuss ways to help solve food crisis
Putin and Draghi discussed ways to help ease the international food crisis, with the Kremlin saying this could be done only if the West lifts sanctions. Draghi said he took the initiative of calling the Russian leader.
The White House said there were no talks being held about relaxing sanctions on Russia in order to secure grain exports.
Read more: Reuters
31 May 2022: EU countries’ energy dependence on Russia ‘embarrassing’, Italy’s Draghi
EU countries know that buying gas and oil from Russia means bankrolling the war in Ukraine, but they cannot do much about it, Draghi admitted.
“There is an awareness” that Russia uses proceeds from energy exports to support its war effort, Draghi said after a two-day summit in Brussels in which EU leaders agreed on a partial embargo on Russian oil.
“There is also, especially in some countries, an awareness of the impossibility of [not buying Russian energy]. So, it is a very frustrating situation, but it will have to be resolved … it is a very embarrassing situation,” he added.
Italy is one of the EU countries that depends the most on gas supplies from Russia, but Draghi’s government is trying to change that by securing new gas deals in Africa and elsewhere.
Read more: Anadolu Agency
Draghi said that sanctions that were imposed by the EU against Russia for its military operations in Ukraine would last many years. Oil trade restrictions will have an effect on international trade routes, according to Draghi. “For many years, if not forever,” Draghi believes.
Read more: Mass News
13 June 2022: Macron, Scholz, Draghi shouldn’t put pressure on Zelensky, calling for concessions to Russia
The Polish Foreign Ministry was aware of plans for a joint visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Draghi to Kyiv, and is convinced that the three leaders should not put pressure on Zelensky to make any concessions to Russia.
Read more: Ukrinfrom
13 June 2022: EU chief, Italian PM in Israel, with Russia-sparked energy crisis topping agenda
Von der Leyen and Draghi landed in Israel, as the EU sought to wean itself off Russian fossil fuel imports. Both leaders were due to hold energy talks in Israel, which has turned from a natural gas importer into an exporter in recent years, cashing in major offshore finds.
Read more: The Times of Israel
16 June 2022: Scholz, Macron and Draghi in Kiev, European imperialism backs escalation of war against Russia
Macron, Scholz and Draghi travelled together on a special train to Kiev to meet Zelensky. In Kiev, Romanian President Klaus Johannis joined the party.
The message that the four of them conveyed was unequivocal. While the war with Russia is increasingly becoming a war of attrition without a foreseeable end, claiming hundreds of lives every day, they are doing everything they can to escalate and prolong it. They promised to supply Ukraine with more heavy weapons and to raise the prospect of accession to the EU. In doing so, they consciously accept the danger of a nuclear, third world war.
Read more: World Socialist Web Site
With the European Commission’s backing, Ukraine could now be added to the list of countries vying for EU membership as early as next week, when member state leaders meet at their Brussels summit.
Read more: The Moscow Times
16 June 2022: Draghi, Russia lying over gas supply problems
Russia was lying when it blamed a recent fall in gas exports on technical problems, Draghi said, accusing Moscow of using its gas supplies for political reasons.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier those reductions in supply over the past two days were not premeditated but were related to maintenance issues.
But during a visit to Kyiv, Draghi dismissed this explanation. “Both Germany and us, and others, believe these are lies. In reality they are making a political use of gas like they are using grain for political use,” he said.
Read more: The Telegraph
21 June 2022: Italy’s Draghi gets backing for government line on Ukraine
Draghi secured the Italian Senate backing to continue supporting Ukraine against Russia, following calls from the 5-Star Movement leadership for Italy to stop sending weapons and focus more on diplomacy.
Draghi outlined Italy’s Ukraine policy, and briefed senators on his recent visit to Kyiv alongside the French and German leaders, ahead of the European Council later this week. While providing no new information on the weaponry Italy had sent, Draghi thanked senators for their “united” support for the government line.
AP News used the words “following calls … to stop sending weapons.” However, Radio Genova tweeted a video with a caption that paints a different picture:
“Deputies rise up against Mario Draghi: ‘Stop sending weapons to Zelensky!’ Over 70% of Italians do not want to send weapons to Zelensky. Mario Draghi does not represent the will of the Italian people. This happens in the worst dictatorships.”
23 June 2022: European Union makes Ukraine a candidate for EU membership
The EU agreed to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership, acting with uncharacteristic speed and unity to pull the embattled country further away from Russia’s influence and bind it more closely to the West.
Read more: AP News