Matteo Salvini has defended himself after the Russian embassy in Italy revealed it had funded the far-right League leader’s planned trip to Moscow last month.
Salvini had intended to travel to the Russian capital on May 29 for what he called a “peace mission”, but the trip was suspended after criticism from his allies in the Italian government, who had no been informed of his plans.
The Russian Embassy said in a statement on Saturday that Moscow was ready to welcome Salvini “at the appropriate level” and had bought him and his delegation tickets for an Aeroflot flight to Moscow via Istanbul. Direct flights from Rome are suspended following EU sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“Due to the sanctions in place against this airline, it is difficult to purchase tickets for the airline’s flight from EU territory,” the embassy said. “The embassy helped Matteo Salvini and the people accompanying him to buy the plane tickets they needed in rubles through a Russian travel agency.”
Salvini refunded the money when the trip was canceled, the embassy added. “We see nothing illegal in any of these actions,” he said, explaining that the statement was released to clarify media reports of the canceled trip.
Salvini, who until the invasion of Ukraine had been an avowed admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said his only goal had been to “restore peace” and that the embassy statement confirmed “once moreover, the total transparency and accuracy of [my] work”.
During a press conference with foreign media in Rome last week, Salvini said that the inquisition during the trip and the people he planned to meet were insignificant and that it was part of his job to meet people. ambassadors from various parts of the world.
“I met the ambassador of Ukraine to show my solidarity and that of Russia to ask for a ceasefire. To stop the war, we must ask those [in the country] where the war started. He said he would continue to work for the national interest “from Rome, without needing to take a plane”.
But the revelation that the trip to Moscow was paid for by the Russian Embassy has sparked a fresh wave of criticism, including calls for him to resign as head of the League, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition partner. .
Simona Malpezzi, of the centre-left Democratic Party, called for “clarity on serious ambiguities”, while Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Azione party, called Salvini a “danger to national security”. Matteo Renzi, the former Prime Minister and leader of Italia Viva, said: “It seems to be a back and forth. If it had been one-sided, it would have been better. »
Elio Vito, a politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, who is running in the elections alongside the League, and a member of Copasir, a parliamentary committee for Italy’s security, said: “It’s really serious. Salvini must resign, he is increasingly a source of embarrassment and concern for his party, his allies, for the right-wing coalition and for Italy.