Matteo Salvini: Italy’s Controversial Tie to Russia

Matteo Salvini is an Italian politician. He has acted as Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of Infrastructure and Transport. Salvini represented Northwestern Italy in the EU Parliament from 2004 to 2018. He strongly supported Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, representing Putin in 2019 as “the best politician and statesman in the world.” Matteo Salvini’s ties with Russia often come under scrutiny.

Matteo Salvini was photographed in Moscow’s Red Square in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, wearing a T-shirt with Putin’s image. In 2018, he stated that EU sanctions against Russia were useless and harmful.

On 22 February 2019, the Italian magazine L’espresso issued an investigation revealing a 3 million euro funding scheme spent by Kremlin-linked entities and hidden as a diesel sale. The scheme concerned the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft trading 3 million dollars worth of diesel to an Italian company. Allegedly, the money was to be moved from Rosneft to the “League for Salvini Premier” (LSP) through a Russian subsidy of the Italian bank Banca Intesa.

The case obtained continued attention in July 2019 when BuzzFeed revealed the voice recordings and transcripts of the conference at the base of the earlier investigation published by L’Espresso public. The tapes reveal Salvini’s public relations officer, Gianluca Savoini, met with Russian agents close to Vladimir Putin in Moscow while Salvini was also in Moscow on an official trip. The meeting centered around delivering the Lega with a $65 million illegal grant by the Russian state. 

In August 2019, in another funding scandal unrelated to the Russia investigations, Italy’s highest court convicted Salvini’s party of paying back 49 million euros of illegally obtained taxpayer funding to the Italian state. Additionally, Belsito was given a prison sentence.

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