Rome, Ahead of June G7 Summit in Italy, Sends Mixed Signals in Respect of Ukraine

British and French remarks ruffle Russian feathers while Italy drops hints of a more nuanced approach ahead of what could be a summer of major combat.

Johanna Geron, pool via AP, file
President Zelenskyy speaks with Italy's prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, during an EU summit at Brussels on February 9, 2023. Johanna Geron, pool via AP, file

In Prime Minister Meloni, President Zelensky has one of his best friends in Europe. It is a complicated continent, though, and not even Italy has a lock on a uniform position to stake out with respect to a war increasingly seen as moving along two tracks. The first is stalemate and a certain ennui that comes with it; the second is global stakes in the conflict that are only getting higher. 

On Monday, Italy’s defense minister, Guido Crossetto, criticized economic sanctions against Russia as a failure and said the only way to end the conflict is “to involve everyone, first to obtain a truce and then peace.” He was speaking to a journalist from Il Messaggero, who reminded him that the Russians have shown approximately zero willingness to negotiate. To that, Mr. Crossetto replied, “We mustn’t give up any possible path of diplomacy, however narrow.”

Narrow is an understatement. On Sunday, a Russian television presenter,  Dmitry Kiselyov, thundered that if NATO countries “send troops to Ukraine, we will blow up everything, everywhere. France and its nuclear power will be undone in an instant, while the British Isles will immediately end up underwater.”

What precipitated those remarks was a visit by the British foreign secretary, Lord Cameron, to Kyiv last week, during which he said that Ukraine “absolutely has the right” to strike back at targets inside Russia using British-supplied weapons. After that, Russia’s foreign ministry summoned the British ambassador to Moscow to make him “reflect on the inevitable catastrophic consequences of such hostile steps by London.”

Moscow summoned the French ambassador, too, following President Macron’s repeating last week that he would not rule out eventually sending troops to Ukraine. Those remarks have renewed debate among NATO members, particularly among allies such as Germany and America, which have also opposed the idea.

There is more than just ratcheted-up rhetoric at stake here: On Monday Russia not only said it would hold drills simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, but also threatened to strike British military facilities. According to a statement from the Russian defense ministry, the drills are a response to “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation.”

Mr. Crosseto told Corriere della Sera earlier, “Our position remains unchanged: We have always said that Ukraine should be helped in every possible way, and we are doing so. But we have also always ruled out direct military intervention by our troops.”

“I don’t judge a president of a friendly country like France, but I don’t understand the purpose and usefulness of these declarations, which objectively raise tensions,” he added. 

Count on Mr. Macron to muddy the waters, whether intentionally or not. How else to explain his latest idea for a “global Olympic truce,” cooked up with President Xi no less?

From Messrs Cameron and Macron one can expect a bit of swagger — Britain in particular has invested more in the fight against Russian aggression in Ukraine than has any other country in Europe. 

Italy currently holds the presidency of the G7, and the next G7 summit will take place mid-June at Borgo Egnazia in sunny Apulia. The parley will bring together the leaders of the seven member states, as well as the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission. Until and during the talks the comments emanating from Rome about Ukraine can be seen as clues as to how the EU will manage, or at least try to manage, the war as summer approaches. 

Right now it is the Italian defense minister telling the Italian newspapers that in his view Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia last summer was a mistake, given Russia’s numerical military superiority. There are signs that Ms. Meloni’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, backs him up on that. Mr. Crosetto, for his part, said he had personally warned Mr. Zelensky that the counteroffensive at that time was doomed to failure, but that he “wasn’t listened to.” 

It is doubtful that such high-ranking Italian officials would make such comments without at least the tacit approval of Ms. Meloni, who is still one of Mr. Zelensky’s staunchest allies. 
Yet guess who is also one of Ms. Meloni’s closest political allies? Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban — who is, to say the least, not the most avid supporter of Ukraine. To some extent that doesn’t much matter, because, after all, Hungary is a small country. Yet in July, Hungary will be the little country that assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, and with that comes veto power.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use