By Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer
ROME – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to address the Italian parliament on Tuesday, but a small number of lawmakers say they will avoid the speech, arguing his appearance will not help restore peace.
Their rebuff highlights a strong pacifist tension in Italy, shaped in part by the country’s disastrous involvement in World War II. But it also reflects a deep-seated pro-Russian vein in some of the country’s major political parties.
Unusually for a Western country, Italy had close ties with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and those ties improved during the long reign of President Vladimir Putin, making the country one of the country’s closest allies. of Russia within the European Union.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi has restored the balance since taking office in 2021, promoting a vigorous and pro-NATO line, and all major parties condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even those with particularly close relations with Moscow – Forza Italia, the 5-Star Movement and the League.
However, at least 20 lawmakers said they would snub Zelenskiy’s appearance and criticized the decision to allow him to address both chambers – an honor previously bestowed only on Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Pope John. Paul II.
Zelenskiy has already spoken via video to parliaments in Britain, the United States, Israel and Germany, and is expected to reiterate his calls for more help to fight Russia on Tuesday.
Senator Gianluigi Paragone told Reuters he would not listen.
“We’ve heard Zelenskiy’s preaching before and if we did what he wanted it would lead us straight to war in Europe,” said Paragone, who was in the 5-star and has since formed an anti-EU group called Italexit.
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About 17 lawmakers from the Alternative group, almost all 5-star dissidents, also said they would boycott the speech.
“This is simply a marketing ploy that will not help end hostilities,” the lawmakers said in a statement, calling on Rome to do more to promote peace talks and criticizing Italy’s parliament for having voted to send arms to Ukraine.
The vote in the lower house last week drew cross-party support, but dozens of lawmakers failed to show up, including many members of the right-wing League, whose leader Matteo Salvini has previously hailed Putin as a great world leader.
At least one League politician, Vito Comencini, confirmed to Reuters that he would skip Zelenskiy’s speech.
He declined to explain his decision, but he made his pro-Russian stance clear on social media, visiting St. Petersburg last week and delivering aid to residents of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, who rose up against the kyiv regime in 2014.
“These are people who have been living in a war zone since 2014, guilty (only) of demanding that their claims be recognized,” Comencini wrote on Facebook.
Salvini himself reduced his once fervent support in Moscow and said he would listen to Zelenskiy.
However, he also said he would struggle to support sending arms to Ukraine when the motion comes before the Senate in the coming days.
“I say in all honesty, I’m in trouble because a democratic culture doesn’t stop bombs with other bombs, but with democracy (and) dialogue,” Salvini said. RAI TV last week.