Afrom the least expected reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was Italy’s tough response. Under Mario Draghi, Italy has backed sanctions against Russia that are painful for its own economy and has supplied arms to Ukraine – although exactly which and how many are unclear.
This secret illustrates the political sensitivity of Mr. Draghi’s determination. The party in his broad coalition with the largest parliamentary contingent is the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (m5s). It is divided over Ukraine.
Refusing to be drawn into a foreign conflict, the m5s challenged previous sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since March, the five stars have been led by Giuseppe Conte. As the independent prime minister of a m5s coalition with the populist Northern League between 2018 and 2019, Mr. Conte frequently approached Vladimir Putin. And in recent weeks, he and most of his lawmakers have criticized arms shipments to Ukraine. A minority, including Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, continues to support the government line.
Things came to a head this week as parties in Mr Draghi’s broad coalition struggled to agree on a resolution to put to parliament ahead of the June 23-24 EU summit. On June 19, the m5sThe executive publicly chastised Mr Di Maio for his hawkish stance, and within two days the foreign minister’s supporters were preparing a breakaway parliamentary group. Their critics argue that Mr. Di Maio’s real motivation is personal: to stay in the m5s would subject him and others to a rule prohibiting elected officials from serving more than two terms.
One of Mr Di Maio’s supporters said he was aiming to win over some 70 of the movement’s 227 lawmakers. Another said the new group’s name would be Together for the Future. The defections will have no immediate effect on the stability of the government. All signs were that Mr Di Maio would remain in cabinet and his supporters would continue to support the government. But it remains to be seen whether Mr Conte will drop the rest of the five-star ruling majority in the coming months.
Lagging behind in the polls, m5s is a shadow of the party that garnered almost a third of the vote in the 2018 election. But splitting it into mutually hostile camps would not necessarily be good news for supporters of a hard line on Ukraine. Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party and a staunch supporter of Mr Draghi, was counting on a pact with the Five Stars to prevent Italy’s hard right from taking power in the next election. The most supported right-wing party, the Brothers of Italy, has a pro-nato position. But Matteo Salvini, the leader of the populist Northern League, was altogether more ambiguous.
The election is scheduled for next year, and as it approaches, two related factors will become increasingly important. One is public opinion. A poll for the European Council on Foreign Relations found that support for Ukraine was lowest in Italy among the ten countries surveyed: 27% of Italians blame America, EU or Ukraine itself for the war. The second factor is the threat of gas shortages next winter. No sooner had Mr Draghi arrived in Kyiv with his French and German counterparts on June 16 than Italian energy companies began to report a drop in supplies from Russia.
In 2020, Russia accounted for 43% of Italy’s gas imports. Germany buys even more gas from Russia (66%). But Italy depends on gas for a much larger share of its energy: 43% in 2020 compared to 27% in Germany. Mr. Draghi and his ministers have rushed to Algeria, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Mozambique and most recently Israel to find replacement supplies. But only Algeria is connected by gas pipeline to Italy.
As the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani, told parliament on May 3, the government’s strategy depends on two things. Two floating regasification facilities must be commissioned by the beginning of 2023, and Russia must not turn off the tap before the end of 2022. Neither is certain. ■