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Changing tune, Italy's Salvini pledges to help refugees from Ukraine

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By Reuters
Changing tune, Italy's Salvini pledges to help refugees from Ukraine
Changing tune, Italy's Salvini pledges to help refugees from Ukraine   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Angelo Amante

ROME – Italian rightist politician Matteo Salvini, who has been among Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main supporters in Western Europe, has pledged to help refugees fleeing Ukraine from the Russian invasion.

His stance marked a U-turn from the anti-immigration positions that previously shaped his politics.

Salvini said in a statement he met Italian business and Vatican representatives to discuss ways to deal with the refugees and bring some of them to Italy.

“We want to help coordinate the aid, organise travel and accommodation in Italy for these families, with particular attention to the orphans and the disabled,” he said.

More than 1.7 million Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion have so far crossed into Central Europe, the United Nation’s refugee agency said. More than 1 million of them are currently in Poland, where Salvini is now visiting.

Salvini heads the right-wing League party, which is part of the national unity coalition, but he is not in the government.

During his time as interior minister in 2018-19, Salvini repeatedly prevented migrant boats from docking in Italy on the grounds he had to protect the country’s borders. He is currently facing trial on migrant kidnapping charges.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has plunged several far-right movements across Europe into confusion, forcing some of them to swiftly abandon previous allegiance to Putin.

Salvini has in the past worn t-shirts portraying the Russian president at Moscow’s Red Square and at the European Parliament, and said he preferred him to Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

He is now seeking to change tack. Last week he said there was “clearly an attacker and an assaulted” in the Ukrainian crisis and Italy had to side with the latter, without directly naming the Russian leader.

“Salvini had to make amends his original sin of pro-Putinism, also in terms of international credibility,” said Massimiliano Panarari, a political communications expert at Unimercatorum University in Rome.