Libya, Syria, refugees, Russia sanctions -- Washington and Brussels make policy and Italy lives with the fallout
From the lack of earthquake assistance from out-of-touch Brussels, to anti-Russia sanctions that extend US foreign policy demands at the expense of European producers, Italy is increasingly looking to Russia as a friend rather than foe.
By now, few would doubt that Russia has witnessed its unfair share of two-faced hypocrisy at the hands of Western organizations. From unfairly targeting Russian Olympic athletes, to questioning Russia’s commitment on human rights, the list is a long and disturbing one. But that seems to be the high price that Moscow must endure for daring to act as an independent sovereign state, outside the iron curtain of US dominance and diktat.
At the same time, Italians are also feeling a sense of Western high-handedness, as was evidenced in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that rocked central Italy on August 24, 2016, killing almost 300 people. Putin was the first world leader to express condolences to the Italian people, while offering to provide the necessary equipment for search and rescue operations. That gesture did not go unnoticed by many Italians, who found it ironic that NATO’s sworn enemy offered to provide more assistance than the EU superstate.
Soldati D’Italia expressed bewilderment that Russia rushed to the rescue, while the EU went missing in a bundle of red tape: “From the ‘enemy’ Russia, the boundaries of which we are ready to deploy our soldiers on the orders of NATO, solidarity and the promise of aid from President Vladimir Putin... In Brussels, in Berlin and in many other European capitals, the drama of the Italian regions battered by the earthquake is experienced not only with indifference, but with the sarcastic cynicism.”
It is this shared sense of exasperation with both Brussels and Washington that is leading to an Italian-Russian renaissance in bilateral relations, so to speak. While not necessarily the same sort of back-slapping chumminess that was prevalent when eccentric, Russia-loving Silvio Berlusconi was in office, things nevertheless are moving in the right direction. That is due in no small part to Italy’s independent-minded Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi.
Nuovo amico, Russia
Italy’s disillusionment with Brussels and Washington was already on the rise long before an earthquake came along to shake up the status quo, and much else besides. Italy’s growing disaffection with its Brussels’ overlord can be traced back to the European Union’s fallout with Russia, largely over distant geopolitical entanglements that involve, of course, the US military.
Almost one year ago to the day, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister, warned that Europe's anti-Russia policy will do nothing positive for European interests.
"Only the ones who did not experience the Cold War can like it. The anti-Russia approach in Europe will lead nowhere," he told the Italian Sky TG24 TV channel in an interview.
Last month, Renzi put his money where his mouth is, slamming the brakes on new sanctions against Russia. It is no secret that Washington, through its suppliant European proxies, wants to exert the greatest pressure on Russia in an effort to force President Vladimir Putin to reconsider his anti-terror operation in Syria (The fact that the US is incensed over Russian military successes in Syria, which include liberating the ancient city of Palmyra and destroying Islamic State's oil-export business, only adds to the mystery). However, US planners failed to consider, or simply didn't care, that Russia can also play the tit-for-tat sanctions game against Europe. Italy, however, can ill afford such high-stake games especially during these times of deep economic uncertainly. So the young Italian leader sidestepped his peers at a time when independent thinking is considered a political liability. “I think that to refer in the text to sanctions makes no sense,” he boldly informed the European Council.
It was not the first time that Renzi voted against the self-defeating sanctions regime on Russia, having twice voted against an extension of sanctions in October 2015.
Renzi’s apparent refusal to allow Italy to be used as a crude tool of American colonial power is seen in stark contrast to the obedient servitude displayed by the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, EU 'leaders' who rarely question American demands even when those demands prove diametrical to their national interests, as is the case with the sanctions.
Another example of Europeans mindlessly towing the US foreign policy line can be witnessed by their dogged support of US-led military adventures, the majority of which are considered illegal, which have opened the floodgates to millions of refugees fleeing these war-zones for the relative safety of European countries.
Italy has been forced to accommodate hundreds of thousands of new arrivals seeking shelter from US-led wars in places like Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Already this year, Italy has witnessed the arrival of some 155,000 refugees – the total amount of last year’s influx. Last month, Renzi broke the news to his EU colleagues that Italy would not be able to repeat that performance next year, while calling on other European countries to do more.
“Italy cannot take another year like the one we’ve just had,” Renzi said in an interview with RAI state television. He also hit out at Brussels for failing to provide the necessary funds to house the refugees.
“Instead of opening their mouths, they should open their wallets,” he added.
But perhaps the most telling sign that times are changing, at least as far as Italy is concerned, came with the news that McDonald’s was served notice that it was not welcome to set up shop at a site in Florence, just after efforts to open a franchise in the Vatican sparked uproar.
The American fast-food chain told AFP it was suing for 17.8 million euros ($19.65 million) in damages after Florence officials rejected an application to open an outlet in the historic Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe.
Thomas L. Friedman once postulated that 'no two countries that had a McDonald’s went to war with each other.' Although NATO destroyed that feel-good theory when it invaded Yugoslavia back in 1999, I shudder at the thought of what might happen to any country that denies the American hamburger superpower an application to open an outlet on its territory, not to mention hamper its anti-Russia campaign.
With those thoughts in mind, it will be very interesting to see how Prime Minister Renzi’s political career moves on from here.