Alberto de Filippis is a journalist and analyst at Euronews and his fields of expertise are hybrid warfare, Latin America and, for the past 12 years Ukraine. He has been monitoring Russian policy around the world for years, and one of the topics that he finds most interesting is Moscow’s ability to intervene in very different countries, “adapting” to needs: in Latin America Moscow supports far-left governments, in Africa dictatorial governments, in Europe it supports not only nationalist parties. In his opinion Moscow’s goal is only one: to cause destabilization. That is why Moscow supports Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, the Cuban regime, but also has contacts with Marine Le Pen in France or with the new leader of French nationalism Éric Zemmour. He is sure that there’s also evidence that the yellow vests in France have had contacts with Russia.
Populism is “popular” in Europe. Populist parties come to power in many EU countries… Italy unfortunately is not an exception. What do you think about the Brothers of Italy party coming to Italian elections?
In Italy, Putin’s friends are Matteo Salvini, but also the Five Star Movement (which in theory was born as an anti-system party) or with pro Brexit parties like Farage’s. And let’s not forget Silvio Berlusconi who has always justified Putin even though he likes to sell himself as a moderate. Putin, however, in Italy also has contacts with the far left in anti-NATO and anti-Brussels functions.
In Germany, Russia has had contacts with the anti-immigrant AFD party, but it also used former Chancellor Schroeder to get the Social Democrats to vote for so many measures in favor of close cooperation with Putin’s Russia.
I would like to give you an example of Russian tactics. The Italian language is spoken mainly in Italy and in the Swiss region of Ticino. Here for years Aleksandr Dugin, who speaks good Italian, one of Vladimir Putin’s closest ideologues, has been organizing meetings with extremists on the right and left united by hatred of NATO and the European Union. Dugin says on the right that Europe must be white, Christian and decisions must be made in Moscow. On the left he says American imperialism must be fought. Moscow’s tactics are absolutely across the board.
Having made these clarifications, let us return to Italy, which I consider unique in Europe. The country is in decline, in 15 years the over-60s will be the majority, in a hundred years the population is expected to be halved. Russia has been doing deep propaganda in the country for at least 15 years. Mainly through social networks as well as through collaborations with different parties. The country is politically unstable, but Russian propaganda has also convinced Italians that they are poor, that their economy (far superior to Russia’s) is small. That the European Union is to blame for the crisis. The propaganda has been persuasive, discreet and constant. In Italy it has been shown, for example, that many anti-vax websites have become pro-invasion sites. The Italian media does not have much credibility not only internationally, but also domestically. And Russia has taken advantage of this. The few journalists who dare to give real news about Ukraine are often first mocked. Then they are threatened. Many Kremlin propagandists such as Piotr Fyodorov, former head of Euronews Russia, come by on TV. Or self-styled scholars who have been explaining for months how Putin has already won and how we should leave Ukraine to him.
The economic crisis has forced the Italian parties, which have no credibility with the population, to rely on a technical government led by Mario Draghi. Atlanticist, pro-European, in favor of supporting even Ukraine militarily. He became leader of a coalition government full of Putin’s friends. For example, Salvini who says sanctions are not needed, Conte, leader of the Fifteen who says we should not give weapons to Ukraine, or Berlusconi, who recently said how Putin is a victim, that he did not want to make this war. Even the environmental movement has been infiltrated. In Italy in recent years, all initiatives to gain the country a modicum of energy independence have been boycotted.
On the other hand, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) is a composite movement. Many are former fascists, but its leader is the only one in Italy today who has any credibility in the population. In FDI there is everything, nostalgia of fascism, but also sincere conservative democrats. Anti-Europeans, but also Atlanticists. The party has grown enormously and seems to lack a trained leadership class, but its leader, Giorgia Meloni, knows well that if she continued to put forward an anti-European sovereignist version, she would be up against the chancelleries of France and Germany. To keep the party united, she continues to flex her muscles with Brussels, but she also talks with Biden’s emissaries and has openly said that Ukraine must be supported.
Italy, for better or worse, has always been a political laboratory, and surprises may come out of this election as well. Matteo Salvini seems to have lost a lot of support. Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party, is in crisis. We could also have a very large coalition government.
Many “right wing” parties (AFD in Germany, Rassemblement national (Marine Le Pen) in France, Fratelli d’Italia) are suspected of having connections to Russians. Does it mean that people in these countries are not well informed about this connection?
There is a generational divide in Italy. I believe that there are generations that are not salvageable, that do not understand the multipolar world and are afraid of it. Many people over 40 are in favor of Putin because they are fascinated by the strong man, because they like to blame the Americans, NATO or Europe and refuse to understand that Italy has perhaps lived beyond its means for years, that the world is changing and you have to adapt. Moreover, the media in Italy is a disaster. No one reads newspapers anymore, and on television they pass, as I said, pro-Putin propagandists because, this is the justification, “you have to make everyone talk.” It is a bit like, if during the Nazi period we should have let the Jews speak, but also the Nazis who after all had their reasons.
Russia has realized that information warfare costs less and does more damage than waging war. A hundred trolls cost less than a tank. If any of your editors speak French you can see by consulting French news sites that pro-Putin people today are almost all Africans. Probably because it is easy to find francophones in Africa. They are cheap and they speak French.
You asked me about the information in Italy. I want to give you another example that would have caused an earthquake in any other country, but not in Italy. A couple of years ago we at Euronews found out that Kasperski, the Russian antivirus company, had an exclusive contract with Italian ministries and police forces. Kasperski makes good products, but we asked a simple question: where are the servers that hold the data of Italian customers? On Russian soil or abroad? We asked this because if FSB or GRU ask to consult confidential data they can do so according to Russian law. Kasperski, which I repeat is a company that makes very good products, did not answer us and even threatened legal action against the European experts who asked the question.
A company from a hostile country holds the sensitive data of the Italian administration and nothing happens. No media has picked up on the news.
According to recent polls, the Fratelli d’Italia will come to power soon. How do you see the prospect of such a new government?
Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, has many enemies. The worst ones? They are her allies. Salvini and Berlusconi continue to sabotage Meloni, and it is not certain that she will be the premier of the next government. It is the president of the republic who decides who will be the head of the executive. Mattarella, the Italian president, should give the appointment to Meloni, but if FDI does not have a stable majority things could change and Italy could continue to have this unclear attitude toward Ukraine. In fact, it should be said that Italy, compared to other European countries, sends very few weapons to Kiev, and the support of many parties for Zelensky is by no means a given. Even the recent visit of Urso, chairman of Copasir, Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic, was not much reported in the Italian media. Indeed, the pro-Putin media specified that it was not an institutional visit, but an informal one. This was to downplay its importance.
A few weeks ago Copasir said that there would be at least four Russian “pundits” who routinely speak on Italian television talk shows and are paid by the Kremlin to spread pro-Putin propaganda. Copasir was attacked because he would threaten freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Urso was also attacked because he is very close to Giorgia Meloni.
According to our data, some of the Fratelli d’Italia members breached a law visiting occupied territories, they openly support Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the same time some of their top members (Adolfo Urso) visited Kyiv last week and declared support. What does it mean?
The party has many souls and many currents. Back in 2017 FDI members visited the illegal Donbass republic. There are FDI proponents who support the invasion, that is undoubted. They are people who have been tolerated in the party and have done a lot for the party. They have done great work on the ground and have been rewarded. Now, however, Meloni has to understand that you cannot continue to have one foot in two shoes. You cannot be with Kiev and with Moscow. It remains to be seen, and I don’t know, whether the party will have the strength to choose the camp that supports Kiev.
Special services of EU countries have information about cooperation of these nationalist parties with the Russian Secret service (financing, bribery,…) and do not make a step ahead. Why?
First of all, the press situation is very difficult in Italy. A journalist who accuses a politician of “intelligence with the enemy” risks a claim for damages in a civil trial that can ruin him. That is why many journalists self-censor. Speaking of Italy, we are under elections. A very high abstentionism is announced, and the parties are afraid of losing what little votes they might have. That is why nothing is happening. Also in Italy TV has less and less economic means and that’s why they organize debates where they know they invite pro-Putin propagandists. There will be reactions on social networks and that will bring attention and advertising investment. This is also why Italian TV is probably the worst in Europe. Do you want another example? During the Covid period, at the time under the government of Giuseppe Conte, the cinquestelle leader, the Russians offered to help Italy by sending doctors. Later investigations found that there were many GRU soldiers in the Russian delegation and that they tried to penetrate Italian bases. Fortunately the plan failed, but again nothing happened in Italy.
You see I live in France and I see that Macron, despite criticism, has put in place an important protective device. From the humanitarian point of view Ukrainians coming to France are helped, while in Italy the situation is dramatic and it is mainly private individuals and the Ukrainian community that was already there that are taking initiatives. Moscow understood that Italy was the weak link in Europe and has been working for at least 15 years with a widespread disinformation campaign. In no European country, perhaps not even in Hungary would the experts who pass in Italy pass on video. They are people with no credibility who, however, are always on television in Italy saying what? That they would not have a chance to speak.