Matteo Salvini's hope for a "Trump-style revolution" In Italy has not only rankled his center-left opponents, but also his nominal allies, coalition allies - the populist League party - who have joined in an investigation into whether Salvini and his political allies received broke campaign finance laws by receiving money from the Russia government, Bloomberg reports.
The scandal over the Russian financing has dogged Salvini - who is not only the leader of the League Party, but also the de facto ruler of Italy, after a close ally, Gianluca Savoini, was caught soliciting illegal party funding from three Russians nationals.
The story has dominated the Italian press for the past week, and Salvini has tried - unsuccessfully - to distance himself from the political scandal.
Initially, Salvini said he didn't know how Savoini, a close advisor to the Interior Minister, ended up at a fundraiser where Russians had sought to funnel money to Salvini's party.
Savoini, a one-time Salvini spokesman, attended a July 4 dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Rome, and the deputy premier has said he doesn’t know how his associate came to be there. On Sunday, however, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte undermined that account, saying in a statement that Savoini had in fact been invited by Salvini’s office.
With western leaders struggling to come to grips with the scope of Russian attempts to undermine their democracies, the...report suggests that the most powerful home-grown opponent of the European Union may have been colluding with the Kremlin.
Now, Salvini and Trump have one more thing in common: Not only are they both reviled by leftists in their respective countries, but Salvini's opponents are now blaming his electoral triumph on interference from the Russians. Like Trump, Salvini has broken ranks with other western leaders, but he's openly advocated for the removal of UN sanctions against Russia. What's an even worse look for Salvini, his party has been pushing to ease sanctions on Russia. He has also rejected his fellow Western European countries' findings that Putin's 'meddling is a 'malign influence.'
So far, the scandal has done nothing to dent Salvini's popularity with his fellow Italians - he remains the most popular political figure in Italian politics.
But it has further strained his relationship with his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, which has called for an investigation into the source of the money . Of course, with Five Star perennially terrified that Salvini might move to drop them from the ruling coalition, they have every incentive to cooperate with the opposition.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition center-left Democratic Party has laso kept up the pressure, with former PM Paolo Gentiloni urgingi Salvinii to resign.
#Savoini Palazzo Chigi smentisce #Salvini A questo punto non basta riferite in Parlamento. Chi dice falsità per coprire truffe e truffatori non può fare il ministro dell’Interno di un grande paese democratico— Paolo Gentiloni (@PaoloGentiloni) July 14, 2019
The timing of the scandal is beyond suspicious. Salvinis' party trounces the competition in Italy and picks of dozens of European Parliament seats, helping form a block of anstiestablishment MPs who could create serious problems for Brussels. So it makes sense that they would try to discredit the nettlesome populist, who has disparaged the euro, thumbed his nose at EU budget rules and generally threatened to upset the status quo in Brussels, with the one tried-and-true smear: Salvini is a Russia agent and the populists' rise in Italy isn't the result of a democratic choice - rather, it's Puiin's fault.