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Russian interference dossier wreaks havoc in Italian election

Russian interference dossier wreaks havoc in Italian election

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ROME — News of a U.S. intelligence dossier, detailing a $300 million covert international influence campaign by the Kremlin, has caused alarm in Italy ahead of elections later this month.

Since 2014, Russia has thrown money at policies and parties sympathetic to Moscow, according to Associated Press reports of the diplomatic cable from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent to embassies this week.

The State Department confirmed the existence of the cable, but its approach of remaining silent about which countries and parties they suspect of taking Kremlin cash has led to speculation, accusations and denials in Italy.

Coming less than two weeks before the September 25 election, the suspicion of Russian influence could damage the chances of the right-wing or populist parties that have historically had close ties to Russia, or those politicians who have parroted propaganda favorable to Putin.

In final polls published on Saturday, a right-wing coalition was on course to win a comfortable majority of seats, led by the hard-right Brothers of Italy party, on 25 percent.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League, which has a cooperation agreement with the Putin-supporting United Russia party, said he had never taken any money from Moscow. He said on Thursday: “I’m working on Italy. The parties that are working on Russia 10 days before an election that is about schools, health, pensions and work have no idea about Italy.”

Giuseppe Conte, leader of the 5Star Movement, which has opposed the sending of more arms to Ukraine, said his party was “transparent” and had nothing to do with the Russian funding scandal. He said the alleged interference risked “polluting the electoral campaign with insinuations and inferences.”

Left-wing politicians called for any individuals and parties involved to be named before the vote.

Leader of the centrist More Europe party and undersecretary for foreign affairs Benedetto Della Vedova wrote on Facebook that any financing by Moscow was “very serious … and we need clarity on it before the vote.”

Asked about the cable in a U.S. State Department briefing on Tuesday, spokesman Ned Price described Russia’s “election meddling” as “an effort to chip away at the ability of people around the world to choose the government that they see best fit to represent them, to represent their interests, to represent their values.”

The intention of the U.S. is to expose Russia’s tactics by putting “a spotlight” on them and sharing information with allies, he said.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Rome has been seeking assurances from the U.S. about whether Italy is named in the document. Prime Minister Mario Draghi spoke to Blinken on Wednesday. In a readout, Blinken’s spokesperson said he “underscored the importance of maintaining solidarity and resistance in the face of Russia’s efforts to use energy and other means to divide countries that support Ukraine.”

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio “advised caution” and said his officials were “in continual contact with the U.S., for the exchange of information” and called for an inquiry.

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