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The Russian invasion of Italian TV
Lavrov, Solovyev and the Italian collaborationists
Lavrov & Solovyev propaganda hit
May 1st was Labour Day in Italy; it’s the day when Italians are supposed to be honouring workers and their past battles for fair labour rights. Public opinion and international media expressed a mix of rage and shock at seeing Lavrov on Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Soloyev on Cairo’s La7 at different times on the same day.
Italian talk shows have been parading a slew of Russian propagandists and Italian collaborationists on TV since February 24. Solovyev had already appeared on Italian TV before but Lavrov had not. Putting aside the incomprehensible reverence of the Italian host (not Christiane Amanpoor to be sure), who didn’t counter any of Lavrov’s outrageous statements, and his signing off by wishing Lavrov all the best for his ‘work’ (genocide?), there’s more here than just interviews of Russian talking heads.
If you consider the Italian media environment as it has broadcast information on Russia’s war of genocide since February 24, it is clear that these appearances are part of Russia’s overall military operation.
At home, Russian media programming is used to disseminate narratives and prepare the ground for future military operations and then accompany those military operations. We’ve seen the same Russian info-ops since Russia’s cyber attack on Estonia in 2007.
The same thing is happening in Italy. The mainstream Italian channels are doing the work of the Kremlin as they feed Italians a steady diet of Russian propaganda and disinformation, preparing Italians and the groundwork for future military operations and Russian diplomatic designs. RT and Sputnik cannot do this anymore because they have been sanctioned by the EU. They found a back door into Europe and the West, and Italian broadcasters are collaborating.
This is an incredible state of affairs. Why Italy and why chose May 1st to bring in the big Russian mouthpieces?
To start, the Russians appeared on national TV on very particular day: Labour Day. The extreme left in Italy has historically been tied to and supported the Soviet Union, and it’s no secret that the Soviet Union funnelled money into the Italian Communist Party as a way to counter American influence in Italy during the Cold War. In the past few years, Putin has ressurected Soviet/communist themes and culture, and Russian propagandists have hammered on anti-American sentiment in Russia and across Europe. The far left in Italy as well as the factions of the radical right also buy into the anti-American narratives touted by Russian propaganda.
Italy’s radical far right Brothers of Italy, the League, and a faction of the 5 Star Movement are already aligned and allied with Russian interests. So it was the perfect day to cement ties across the political spectrum from the far left to the far right.
The presence of Russian propagandists on Italian mainstream media channels has been unusually continuous since February 24, disseminating one falsehood after another. This has prompted many observers and analysts to ask:
Who authorised these interviews? Is there a list of Russian assets to contact? Who has organised the campaign? From where is it being conducted? Who is involved in its execution?
Several MPs from the centre left and right are now calling for an official investigation into a possible Russian info-war campaign being executed in Italy- in a NATO state- citing threats to national security. There’s a reason for that.
This is not the first time that Russians have run military operations in Italy.
In March 2020, images of a long column of Italian military vehicles transporting caskets for cremation from the city of Bergamo flooded international media outlets. We were horrified by the sheer number of victims to Covid. Shortly afterwards, PM Conte called Putin, and what resulted was a ‘medical aid’ operation called ‘From Russia with Love.’
Russia analysts and specialists considered the presence of Russian forces in Italy as a propaganda campaign, part of their Covid diplomacy effort. The Chinese were doing the same. To the delight of Russian audiences, their TV channels ran non-stop footage of Russian military vehicles traipsing up to Bergamo along one of Italy’s main highways. Russia was trying to rehabilitate its reputation as ‘the good neighbour who cares’, and this was accompanied with video footage of exuberant Italians welcoming the Russian military personnel.
No matter that the ventilators they brought with them caught fire, making them dangerous and completely unusable. The Russian ‘delegation’ arrived with a chemical warfare unit but Italy already boasts a top-notch chemical warfare specialist unit. In the end, the Italian citizens shelled out roughly 700m euro to the Russians for this operation, so Russian ‘aid’ wasn’t a gift.
Under the guise of ‘medical aid’ to Italy, Russian military forces set foot in a NATO state, with American and Italian military bases and arsenal. It was alarming to such a degree that the Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini placed a cordon sanitaire of 30 kms around national Italian sensitive sites, barring the Russians entry into those areas.
It was a stunning security breach, and there are still questions that remain unanswered to this day: what intelligence did the Russians gather as they were here? How many of the Russian military personnel stayed in Italy after the operation? What material or equipment did they bring and leave behind?
I am speechless when I think that the operation was authorised and spearheaded by Prime Minister Conte- the leader of the Italian government at the time. It certainly speaks to the close ties Conte and his 5 Star Movement faction has with Putin, various Russian oligarchs and the Russian military, forged back in 2018 at least. That no other Italian political party protested the presence of Russian forces on Italian soil also indicates an unspeakable level of economic and political capture in Italy.
Now fast forward to Labour Day. It is yet another attack on a NATO nation- a national security breach through airwaves and cables.
PM Draghi is steadfast in his support of Ukraine’s defence along with NATO and EU allies, but Lavrov’s and Soloyev’s appearances on Italian TV make it abundantly clear that Draghi isn’t enough to curb Russian influence in Italy alone.
Leader of the League, Matteo Salvini tweeted on May 2 that he wanted to go to Moscow to speak with Putin to aid in negotiations (he wants peace, and Conte has also intimated a greater role for Italy by reopening a ‘dialogue’ with Moscow. Whether these efforts come to fruition is highly unlikely, but just the fact that they are mentioning a visit to Moscow, and not Kyiv, tells us that they are playing their part to uphold Russia.
Besides statements from Russian and pro-Kremlin Italian assets, who pose as ‘opinionists’ on talk shows, there is another side to this. Ukrainian journalists and activists are also invited to participate but they are given very little time to speak. They are often cut off by breaking to a commercial or simply cut off altogether.
Shows like CartaBianca (RAI3) and Otto E Mezzo (La7) often host one Ukrainian guest in opposition to 4 pro-Russian guests. Ukrainian voices on Italian mainstream circus talk shows are simply drowned out and suppressed by Russian narratives.
Some time after February 24, one after another, Ukrainian journalists started saying in that they would no longer be appearing on Italian media because the goal of these talk shows isn’t to inform the general public. Italian talk shows, mimicking their Russian counterparts in stage set up and format, are used to create a circus-like environment, present contrasting arguments so that you just don’t know what is true anymore. This is exactly what the Russian info-war effort sets out to do: hide the truth behind the fog of noise and chaos.
Ukrainian journalists and activists are right to boycott these programmes.
Why should Ukrainians have to justify defending their nation? Why are they called to debunk Russian disinformation that has been amply debunked for years? Why should they subject themselves to denigrating comments from so-called experts calling them nazis and warmongers?
If you were to drop to Earth from Mars and watch ten minutes of an Italian prime time talk show and some news segments, you would be hard-pressed to understand who the aggressor was and who was defending themselves. You would never know that the Russians are destroying Ukrainian cities and committing war crimes and genocide akin to the horror of the Holodomor and Second World War.
For the Italian population that supports the defence of Ukraine and Ukrainians, we are left to press our representatives to investigate the Russian info-war operation in Italy and denounce this unbelievable state of affairs publically.
Thanks for reading…