Italy’s Parliament convened Friday for the first time since anti-establishment forces shattered the old-line political system, and it remains unclear who will lead the country. But one victor is certain: the Kremlin. The populist Five Star Movement and the far-right League — the two parties most likely to bring together a ruling coalition — have called for a swift end to European sanctions against Russia. Both want to reorient the NATO defense alliance away from its increasingly robust stance in Eastern Europe, where it has stationed troops and tanks to defend against a possible conflict with the Kremlin. And both say Russia is a valuable partner in the global fight against terrorism in Syria and elsewhere.
The result all but guarantees that European Union leaders will be unable to find the unanimity that would be needed for a substantial response to the attempted poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, for which British authorities blame Russia. And it could exacerbate divisions within NATO about how robustly to respond to Russia, whose 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula triggered Cold War-era tensions.
“The economic sanctions against Russia are madness, directed against a neighboring and friendly market,” League leader Matteo Salvini said this week at a rally in the northeastern Italian city of Udine, where strong trade ties to Russia have been affected by the economic measures. “I want to work for peace, not for war. I do not want to assemble little tanks like the game of Risk.”