Moscow ‘ready’ to sign pact with Italy's Grillo
Russia is in talks on a “cooperation pact” with Beppe Grillo’s eurosceptic Five Star party in Italy on the model of similar deals with Italy’s Lega Nord and Austria’s FPO.
Sergei Zheleznyak, the deputy head of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, made the announcement in Moscow on Monday (6 March).
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“We are ready to sign agreements with all Italian parties. We are familiar with Five Stars and are in active dialogue with its representatives, but the signing of the cooperation agreement between us will be possible only after this party is ready for it. We are ready,” he said, according to the Russian state-funded outlet, Sputnik.
The Five Star party is preparing to contest upcoming elections in Italy and has said the country should leave the eurozone, in what would amount to an existential crisis for the EU.
Meanwhile, Grillo has spoken in increasingly glowing terms of Putin and of Putin-friendly US leader Donald Trump.
He told French newspaper the Journal Du Dimanche in January that previous US foreign policy, such as its anti-Russia sanctions, had been a "disaster".
“If Trump wants to line up with Putin to put things back on the right path, he will have our backing. Two giants like them who can talk to each other - it’s the whole world’s dream," he said.
Zheleznyak spoke on Monday after United Russia the same day signed an accord with Italy’s anti-EU and far-right Lega Nord party.
He said the pact would “serve as a basis for cooperation … on issues such as security, preservation of traditional values, [and] future economic cooperation between Italy and Russia”.
He also mentioned “problems of youth … employment issues, illegal migration, and drug trafficking” as well as “fighting terrorism” as areas for joint work.
Matteo Salvini, the Lega Nord chief, signed the pact in Moscow and held talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
He told Sputnik that Lega Nord members were ready to go on more visits to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine two years ago.
He also said he was “strongly in favour of Russia taking part in the Libyan settlement bearing in mind Russia’s experience in Syria”.
Russian air strikes in Syria on behalf of the Syrian regime targeted civilians and hospitals in the city of Aleppo in what EU states called war crimes.
United Russia already signed a five-year cooperation deal with Austria’s anti-EU and far-right FPO party in December.
The FPO said at the time that it would work with Russia on “various levels, from youth party wings via regional branches to international issues”.
Its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said in Moscow that the EU should lift its "damaging and pointless … sanctions” on Russia.
The Kremlin is also cultivating ties with anti-EU and far-right parties the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany, and Jobbik in Hungary.
A Russian bank granted multi-million euro loans to the National Front ahead of presidential elections in France.
The party's leader, Marine Le Pen, told the CBS broadcaster on Monday that Europe should not see Putin as a threat.
“I think that’s a big scam. I’ll tell you what the danger is for Europe. It’s carrying out a Cold War against Russia and pushing Russia into China’s arms. That’s the threat to Europe,” she said.
The AfD's leader, Frauke Petry, met with United Russia's Viacheslav Volodin, who is also the Russian parliament speaker, in Moscow in February ahead of German elections in autumn.
“They discussed issues of cooperation between regional parliaments, inter-party cooperation, as well as the development of contacts for youth organisations,” the Russian parliament said in a statement.
Russia's political outreach comes after British, French, German, and US spy chiefs warned that Moscow was meddling in EU elections via its propaganda outlets, internet trolls, and state-backed hackers.
France and the Netherlands have taken steps to protect vote-counting from cyber attacks in their upcoming elections.
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has also said his party had been targeted by Russian hackers.
The British foreign minister, Boris Johnson, who is to meet Russia's Lavrov in the next few weeks, said in Brussels on Monday that Putin was "was up to all sorts of no good" in Europe.
"They [the Russians] are, I’m afraid, engaged in cyber-warfare, they’re engaged in undermining countries in the Western Balkans ... to say nothing of Russia’s actions in Ukraine which are, as everybody knows, completely unacceptable", he said.
"They’ve got to change. They’ve got to show that they can be trusted again," he said.