In the chaos that has reached the gates of Moscow, while Wagner’s military attempted a coup d’état and civil war came close in Russia, we have kept our nerve”, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said, well aware that this “could be a turning point”, even in the war in Ukraine. Today he will discuss the topic in Luxembourg at the Summit of EU Foreign Ministers, and Prime Minister Meloni has announced communications in Parliament next Wednesday, but one thing is already clear to Minister Tajani: “Russia is weaker. Important cracks have emerged in its military system, which had Wagner as its flagship. It will be a major loss for Russia”. In Ukraine as in North Africa, because “Wagner has always had a malign influence in those areas, destabilising the region and affecting migration flows. Now there are these divisions, but – as the Minister stressed several times during the phone call – we do not interfere in Russian political life”.
The weakness, however, is also in Putin’s leadership. In Rostov streets, the Head of Wagner, Yevgheny Prighozin, was applauded.
“I see the rift, which is now also evident for the Russian public, and Putin does not come out stronger. Bearing this in mind, we have never thought of supporting the leader of Wagner. I would like to make it clear that we are not at war with Russia. We defend Ukraine’s independence. We do not take action to intervene in Russia”.
Putin risks seeing the end of his regime, but he still leads a nuclear power. Does this suggest caution?
“There is clear concern. In the afternoon, there was a meeting of the Crisis Units from across the EU, which was also attended by the US Crisis Unit. We remain vigilant”.
Were there fears of repercussions for European citizens in Russia?
“The situation was very delicate, but we contacted one by one the over 5,300 Italian citizens living on Russian territory and they are all fine. In those frantic hours we urged them to be very careful and not to leave their homes. The Foreign Ministry also received many calls from friends and relatives of Italians in Russia, but now there is no risk”.
US President Joe Biden called the leaders of France, Germany and England. Not Italy.
But there is great consideration for Italy on the part of the United States. On Saturday we participated in the G7 with Blinken and, during the press conference with me, he spoke words of praise for the Italian government and President Meloni. Italy is fundamental, because thanks to us the unity of the European front is ensured and this must be kept in mind by everyone”.
Will we continue to send arms to Ukraine?
“As long as their independence is in danger, we will help them. We will see in what way and in what form. Also with weapons, where necessary, by always informing Parliament.”
Our aid, however, may no longer entail sending war material.
“We are already working on reconstruction, for example. I also remember when we sent about 100 tonnes of electrical material to prevent Ukraine from being brought to its knees by Russian offensives. There is not only military aid. We can also provide civil and strategic aid”.
Is Italy pushing for Ukraine’s entry into NATO?
“It is not yet the time for NATO membership. First, peace must be achieved. But the first steps towards membership can already be taken at the Atlantic Alliance Summit to be held in Vilnius in July, thus giving rise to the NATO-Ukraine Council, which Italy strongly supports”.
Do you believe that peace is now closer?
“I hope that Russia will understand that the time has come to withdraw its army. They were thinking of a blitzkrieg a year ago, and instead now internal problems explode and their military withdraws. The message is clear: Russia must take a step back and come to a cease-fire”.
What do you think about the coldness with which Russia’s allies reacted during the attempted coup?
“It must make Russia reflect. War is in nobody’s interest, not even the countries closest to Russia, including China, which can push Russia to retrace its steps and play a role for peace, with a free Ukraine”.
Turning to domestic political issues, what is Forza Italia‘s fate without Berlusconi?
“It is not a party in disarray. It has lost its leader, but in the territories there is great mobilisation and all polls show we are growing. We are a decisive party in the centre-right. And now we are beginning the path that in a year will lead us to the Party’s Congress”.
Will you stand as a candidate for the Party’s leadership?
“Let us not think about candidacies. Let us think about working to build and strengthen a political project that needs ideas and daily work. A year in politics is equivalent to a lifetime”.
By the way, at this pace in a year’s time we risk still not having ratified the ESM. By now Meloni’s attitude seems like blackmail against those countries that have ratified it even though they know they will not use it.
«I would not speak of blackmail. There are so many other reforms that are at a standstill, like the banking union or tax harmonisation. Moreover, whoever runs the ESM must be subject to the European Parliament’s scrutiny. It cannot be left in the hands of the strongest State”.
Elections in Greece seem to lead to a new government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is your ally in the European People’s Party.
« It is an important success: for Greece above all, because it reaffirms a path of stabilisation and political and economic consolidation of a sister country that has experienced years of pain and uncertainty. Mitsotakis will continue to work vigorously for the good of Greece, but his party will provide a very strong contribution to the role of the European People’s Party and its ability to make the European project progress ever more securely”.