ROME — Western sanctions against Russia are not working and actually harm Italy, according to Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, suggesting allied countries should reconsider their approach.
Speaking at a conference of political leaders Sunday on Lake Como, Salvini claimed the sanctions meant to punish Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine had in fact helped Russia, resulting in an export surplus of $140 billion, during the year ending July 2022.
“Do we have to defend Ukraine? Yes,” Salvini said. “But I would not want the sanctions to harm those who impose them more than those who are hit by them.”
Salvini’s remarks come just weeks before Italians head to the polls on September 25 in a national election in which a right-wing coalition that includes the League is expected to win. His comments could therefore raise concerns about the future government’s resolve against Russia among other EU politicians, especially given one of Salvini’s allies in the coalition, Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni, has vowed to stand firm with NATO on tough measures against Moscow.
Salvini said the League has supported measures to help Ukraine at both the national and EU levels and he would not break with Western allies if they continue to impose sanctions, but he also called on other leaders to rethink their tactics.
“If we get into government will we change alliances? No. We remain deeply, proudly and firmly rooted in a free and democratic West that opposes war and aggression,” Salvini said. “But if we adopt an instrument to hurt the aggressor and after seven months of war it has not been hurt, at least considering a change seems legitimate to me.”
He argued a European response is needed to calm energy prices or thousands of jobs could be lost. “We certainly need a European shield, like during COVID,” Salvini said.
The League leader has made similar comments in recent days raising doubts about sanctions, with critics arguing he’s echoing a popular talking point used by the Russian government.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio from the rival Together for the Future party argued Salvini is opposing sanctions in order to “do [Vladimir] Putin a favor,” and said his comments showed Salvini and his allies were divided on the subject.
“The issue of sanctions is very clear in the Italian right: They don’t have a line,” Di Maio told Rai TV Mezz’Ora in Piu on Sunday.
Enrico Letta, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, also accused Salvini on Twitter Saturday of doing Putin’s work, referring to a video of Salvini arguing that sanctions hurt Italy more than Russia.
“I don’t think Putin could have said it better,” Letta said.