Tuesday, 14th December have been rejected the two no-confidence motions (one in the senate, or upper house, one in the chamber of deputies) against the Berlusconi government. The no-confidence motions were submitted by the two main opposition parties, but the leader of the revolt is Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the chamber and former main ally of Berlusconi. Fini, who was the co-founder of the centre-right party PdL (The People of Freedom, Italian: Il Popolo della Libertà), together with Berlusconi, and allied with Lega Nord in the government, is known for his strongly pro-American and pro-Israel views.
Tuesday, 14th December have been rejected the two no-confidence motions (one in the senate, or upper house, one in the chamber of deputies) against the Berlusconi government. The no-confidence motions were submitted by the two main opposition parties, but the leader of the revolt is Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the chamber and former main ally of Berlusconi. Fini, who was the co-founder of the centre-right party PdL (The People of Freedom, Italian: Il Popolo della Libertà), together with Berlusconi, and allied with Lega Nord in the government, is known for his strongly pro-American and pro-Israel views. During this summer Gianfranco Fini left the PdL and formed the new party “Future and Freedom”, accusing the premier Berlusconi of dictatorial manners and non-liberal views. From this moment in the mass media and society has unleashed an avalanche of accusations against the prime minister, charged of being against democracy and friend of dictators such as Gaddafi, Chavez and Putin. This fact has lead at no-confidence vote of few days ago, in which Fini and the opposition tried to bring the government to collapse and replace it with a “technical government” to normalize the Italian politics.
In the Italian political system, the prime minister is not as powerful as the president in Russia or France and the opposition, at any time, if there is a defection of majority’s members (which is the case of Fini and his supporters), can decide to put him in minority and bring down the government. The opposition, in Italy, is made up of heterogeneous groups, among which there are left, center and right parties united only by their hatred for Berlusconi. A few days ago, they submitted to vote a no-confidence motion in the country’s parliament. Berlusconi bought some deputies and survived the no-confidence motion in the lower house by only three votes. But now he has a very narrow majority.
The votes were called following a spate of sex scandals related to Berlusconi and as a result of the “revelations” of Wikileaks depicting the prime minister in a very negative manner. But the long series of sex scandals began in 2009 with the newly elected President Obama at power in the USA and the significant meeting on May 15 between Putin and Berlusconi (together with the heads of Gazprom and ENI, Alexei Miller and Paolo Scaroni) to confirm their common pledge in the South Stream project. The scandals and the cabinet crisis comes after two years of intense engagement in foreign policy by the Berlusconi government. Wikileaks recently revealed that US diplomats voiced concern over Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the grip of energy interests on Rome’s foreign policy. On 26 January 2009, the former US ambassador in Italy R. P. Spogli write a full cable from the US embassy in Rome and fills out a gloomy assessment that depicts Italy in thrall to Moscow (visible here: http://184.108.40.206/cable/2009/01/09ROME97.html).
“Distressingly, Berlusconi treats Russia policy as he does his domestic political affairs — tactically and day-to-day. His overwhelming desire is to remain in Putin’s good graces, and he has frequently voiced opinions and declarations that have been passed to him directly by Putin. One such example: in the aftermath of the Georgia crisis, Berlusconi began (and continues) to insist that Georgia was the aggressor and that the GOG was responsible for several hundred civilian deaths in South Ossetia.” And also: “During a March 2008 visit to ENI Headquarters embassy staff were given a briefing on ENI’s Russian energy operations (available on Embassy Rome’s Classified web site). ENI’s view of the European energy situation was disturbingly similar to that of GAZPROM and the Kremlin, and at times laced with rhetorical flourishes reminiscent of Soviet-era double-speak: according to ENI, the real threat to Western Europe’s energy security is not Russia — it is Ukraine. The real solution to Europe’s energy insecurity, according to ENI, lies in more direct pipeline connections to Russian gas fields and a need for pipelines that do not go through Ukraine — the rationale for the South Stream and Nord Stream pipelines.”
Because of Berlusconi and ENI, Russia — Spogli complains — in Europe can count on a country that systematically support its cause. All the more so now, being finished the personal relationships that bound Berlusconi at the former US president, Bush jr., the head of the Italian government seems destined to draw ever closer to Moscow as a trusted ally within EU. But the US administration is not watching without reacting. The most interesting part of the document is the one where it describe the countermeasures that Spogli is putting in place — but, strangely, is also the portion of text less quoted by the world press: “To tackle the problem head-on, Post has deployed a robust diplomatic and public affairs strategy targeting key figures inside and outside government. Our aim is two-fold: educate our interlocutors more profoundly on Russian activities and thus the context for U. S. policy, as well as build a counter- weight of dissenting opinion on Russia policy, especially within Berlusconi’s political party. Since the beginning of the summer, wit Berlusconi’s return to power and the Georgia crisis, we have been engaging with GOI leaders aggressively at all levels. Pol, PA and Econoffs have engaged party members, GOI contacts, think tanks and even press to provide an alternative narrative to the Berlusconi insistence that Russia is a democratic and stable country that has been provoked by the West. The effort seems to be paying off. The opposition has begun taking jabs at Berlusconi by portraying him as choosing the wrong side of the debate. Some in the PdL have begun to approach us privately to say that they would like greater dialogue with us on the Russia issue, and have indicated their interest in challenging Berlusconi’s giddiness about Putin. While we have a long way to go in changing the narrative, unfortunately, we have help — in the form of a PM who appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin.”
Although many international analysts, like F. William Engdhal and Webster Tarpley, say that Wikileaks is an US inside job — part of the ongoing war within (and against) the Obama administration — it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the independent action of the Berlusconi government is not acceptable to the US administration and other Western countries. Despite the sex scandals that have involved Berlusconi have an element of truth, the real reason of this media and judicial war against him is the close relations that his government has with Russia, Belarus, Libya, Iran, Venezuela and his personal friendship with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Medvedev. The embassy cable above states that they have engaged in talks with political leaders inside and outside the government, with the express purpose of creating, especially within his own party, a current of thought hostile to russophile Berlusconi. In addition, unspecified “think tanks” were hired to build a current of public opinion hostile to Russia and welcomes Spogli, “the effort seems to be paying”. After the release of these “revelations” by Wikileaks the opposition in Italy is immediately, committed to a critique of Berlusconi’s relationship with Putin, depicting Berlusconi as a puppet of russians and these strong ties as a danger for Europe and the USA. Even some members of the PdL (the government party), as wrote in the cable, have appealed privately to US embassy “to counter the infatuation of Berlusconi for Russia”. It’s quite easy to compare the statements of Spogli and what happened in the press, civil society and especially in the Italian domestic politics since January 2009 to present.
The United States do not want that Italy has an independent policy, especially in the energy sector. Berlusconi’s commitment (through participation of ENI in the project, our main energy company) to the project of South Stream is a tragedy for the USA’s plans to divide Europe from Russia through the Nabucco project. Financial and political sectors of USA and England have decided to take out Berlusconi, both supporting the opposition (especially Gianfranco Fini, former ally of B.) and organizing massive protest marches in Rome the same day of voting. The sense of a government under siege was reinforced by rioting in Rome, as demonstrations across Italy drew thousands of students and workers protesting against budget cuts and the austerity program. In the worst unrest to hit Rome in many years, masked militants took over the protests against government budget cuts, torching vehicles and attacking shops and banks. The protesters are coordinated through social networks, particularly Facebook and Twitter, the same way as already seen recently in other occasions, as in Iran, Russia, Ukraine and so on. It’s a clear attempt to “colored revolution” like “Soros sponsored” revolutions made or tried in the past in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia and many others eastern countries. Indeed, both George Soros and Zbigniew Brzezinski have recently pointed the accusing finger at the Italian government for its too independent policy and its projection to the south and east countries.
For the moment, this attempt of “colored revolution” (Purple Revolution, as call themselves the protesters) failed and the onslaught of parliament, while the votes for the motions were held, was stopped by the police. The opposition, headed by Fini, lost the no-confidence vote and the government is still in charge. But it is hard to believe, that will be able to arrive until the end of term in 2013. The opposition is divided and weak, but italian psychological dependence on USA and Israel and the economic crisis will lead it to ruin unless Berlusconi himself or someone who is not an agent of the United States does not make itself a “revolution” for Italy’s independence.
What are the probable consequences of victory of Berlusconi especially for Italy-Russia relations? It’s still early to tell. Everything depends on keeping the government in the coming months. In his speech to parliament, shortly before the vote, Berlusconi reiterated: “Russia supplies us with 30 percent of our energy needs, and Italian firms do good business in Russia. I’ve always promoted Italian interests. And I can assure you, not one dollar of those business deals entered my pocket”. True or not, what is important is the fact that, after the vote of no-confidence, in Italy’s foreign policy nothing is changed since the well-established route. That route go beyond the simple friendship between Berlusconi and Putin/Medvedev and is driven by the real heartland of Italian foreign policy that is called ENI, ENEL, Finmeccanica (the three main Italian state-owned industries).
In any case, the leaks have not deterred Moscow-Rome energy and policy cooperation. Today the United States are perceived not only in Moscow but in growing circles in western Europe as a superpower in irreversible decline. In the context of the most severe economic depression in the USA since the 1930s with no end in sight and the failure of the Obama Presidency and US foreign policy generally to articulate an agenda of cooperation beneficial for EU governments, a growing faction within EU political and business elites from France to Italy to Germany and beyond are looking to deepen economic ties with Russia and Eurasia as the economic growth market of their future. That, of course, is not acceptable in Washington, which is deploying the countermeasures to avoid it. The Italy-Russia Wikileaks “revelations” and the “Purple Revolution” should be read in light of that geopolitical background.
* Antonio Grego, historian, international relations analyst, journalist. Copy editor for the italian journal Eurasia, devoted to geopolitical studies. Lecturer and member of the Institute Enrico Mattei of Advanced Studies for the Near and Middle East (IEMASVO). Author of “Figlie della stessa lupa. Storia dei rapporti tra Italia e Romania alla vigilia della seconda guerra mondiale” (Fuoco, Rome 2009).