Q Club

Berlusconi and the South Stream

Former Italian PM and his political allies argue that Putin is the best ally of Europe in order to oppose a Muslim invasion of EU member states. By switching the focus of international geopolitics on human flows from Northern Africa and Muslim nations, Berlusconi aims to re-activate a pro-Russian energy policy based on his personal friendship with the President of Russian Federation.

Europe risks to be invaded by Muslims and only a tight cooperation with Russia could help the European Union to oppose a terrible Islamic invasion from Africa. This is not a painting from the Middle-Age, but what former PM of Italy Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday 10/11 in Aosta, during a political meeting of his conservative Go Italy Party.
Berlusconi, who led the Italian government trice in the last 20 years -from 1994 to 1995, from 2001 to 2006, and from 2008 to 2011- underlined that the President of Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, should be considered an ally of Christianity that could help EU member states to defend themselves from Islamic and international terrorism.
«There is few world leaders who are able to oppose these threats, that's why Italy should keep tight relationships with a Christian power as Russia» Berlusconi stated in front of his Go Italy supporters.
During the meeting, Berlusconi also seconded Putin's propaganda by arguing that the President of Russian Federation was forced to intervene in Eastern Ukraine, in order to defend Russian speakers of Crimea, Donbas and Luhansk Region.
Pro-Russian statement of Berlusconi was first of all a way to publicly criticize the Government of Matteo Renzi: the Italian PM, who is also the Leader of center-left Democratic Party, seconded the request for tighter sanctions to the Russian Federation, in order to react to the violation of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty.
In his strategy of arguing the necessity of an alliance with Russia in order to oppose the Government of Matteo Renzi, Berlusconi is not alone. On Friday 10/10, in Moscow, the Leader of populist Northern League movement Matteo Salvini praised Putin's regime for the absence of Islamic immigrants in the Red Place.
Salvini's Northern League is also leading a violent campaign against EU sanctions to Russia both at the European Parliament and in Italy, where he is activating businessmen in the northern regions of the country to oppose Renzi, EU and US opposition toward Putin's military aggression in Ukraine.
The decision of both Berlusconi and Salvini to use an anti-Islam rhetoric, in order to support a tighter alliance with Russia, is filed with the support of Southstream pipeline: a project, planed by Putin and seconded by Berlusconi in 2009, which carries more Russian gas to Europe and bypasses Ukraine and EU member States of Central-Eastern Europe.
The Southstream affair was a case of privatization of energy politics in Italy: Berlusconi, whose government was supported by a coalition of his Go Italy and the Norther League, moved Italian energy concern ENI to establish a partnership with Russian national major Gazprom for the realization of Southstream in the name of his personal interests with President Putin.
Despite of Berlusconi's support to Putin's pipeline, the European Commission considered that Southstream endangers energy security of EU member states, which are highly dependent on gas supplies from Russia and Algeria, and recommended Italy to give priority to the realization of Trans Adriatic Pipeline -TAP.
The recommendation of the European Commission was followed by the Italian Governments of post-Berlusconi era: PMs Mario Monti, Enrico Letta and Matteo Renzi endorsed the realization of TAP, which is conceived to pump 10 bcm per year of gas from Azerbaijan through Greece and Albania.
Populists and extremists to endorse Putin's energy politics in Italy
TAP is a project that diversifies Italy's gas supplies, makes Italy the hub of Azerbaijani gas in Europe, creates new job opportunities mainly in Apulia, one of the poorest regions of Italy. For this reason, TAP is endorsed not only by center-left Democratic Party, but also by New Center Right Party, centrist Civic Choice and the Socialists.
However, TAP is strongly opposed by extremist and populist political forces. On the one hand, populist Five Stars Movement of comedian BeppeGrillo and far left-wing Left-Ecology-Freedom Party argue that TAP endangers environmental equilibrium of Apulia's coasts. On the other hand, populist Northern League, far-right Brothers Of Italy Party and some MPs of Berlusconi's Go Italy consider that the realization of TAP is a violation of Italy's national sovereignty.
Azerbaijan is also seen by those non-elevated Italians as a far Muslim country that pertains to the Arab world: so, Berlusconi and Salvini exasperated their anti-Islam rhetoric in order to discredit TAP, endorse Southstream and support the necessity of tighter political and energy relationships with Russia.
In Italy, Azerbaijan is also frequently accused of human rights violations by several openly pro-Russian commentators and center of studies, which consequently fail to underline and criticize human rights violations in Russia: this is a strategy that aims to paint Azerbaijan as a evil country, and to belittle both Putin's repression of liberty in Russia and Russian military aggression toward Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine.
Last but not least, it is interesting to notice that no party of the anti-TAP coalition never opposed nor criticized the realization of Southstream, which was planed three years before the one of TAP.
According to the prominent The Economist and The Guardian, the Northern League and Five Stars Movement would have received logistical support from Russia during past European electoral campaign.
By their part, far left-wing Left-Ecology and Freedom and far right-wing Brothers of Italy Parties are inspired by anti-Americanism, which moves them to consider Russia the stronger geopolitical counter-balance to NATO and Italy's ties with the US.

Matteo Cazzulani
Firstly publised by Ukrainian journal The Day