By Sean Jobst
On their way to meeting with Catalan separatists, a Kremlin-linked delegation led by de-facto South Ossetian “foreign minister” Dimitri Medoev met with separatist leaders in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, a recent report by Spanish media confirmed. This coincided with referendums in those regions to determine more autonomy from Rome. Anatoly Bibilov, leader of breakaway South Ossetia which split from the Republic of Georgia and is only recognized by Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, has affirmed his contacts with Lega Nord, which lobbies for South Ossetia’s recognition within the Italian Parliament.
Representing the devolutionist side in the referendum are Liga Veneta and Lega Lombarda, both branches of Lega Nord, the secessionist group that seeks to carve out a new nation called “Padania” out of northern Italy. Pro-secessionist posters in Veneto are being displayed linking their cause to that of Catalan separatists, while Lega Nord leaders have consistently expressed support for Catalan independence since at least 2013. They have condemned Spain for “the worst pages of democracy” in its alleged violent suppression of Catalonia, and Lega Nord has held pro-separatist demonstrations outside the Spanish consulate in Milan.
Lega Nord has been deepening its political and economic links with Russia in recent years, with the Kremlin treating it de-facto as a separate entity from Italy. This includes a “cooperation protocol” Lega Nord signed with Putin’s United Russia party in Moscow early this March. Lega Nord calls for lifting EU sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea, showing its support with delegations to Crimea. Lega Nord-led regional assemblies have passed pro-Russian resolutions.
Matteo Salvini, Lega Nord chairman, has praised Russia as “an example for all the European nations” for its “open elections”. His lavish praise of Putin’s Russia is in stark contrast to his contempt for Europe, which he claims “does not exist. It doesn’t exist culturally, it doesn’t exist politically, it doesn’t exist as a currency”. This places him firmly as a willing stooge in the Kremlin’s destabilization efforts against Europa. In 2016, Dugin and Salvini openly plotted the EU’s dismembership for the Eurasianist Katehon think-tank.
On 22 June 2015, Dugin was guest of honor at a Milan conference on “The Revival of an Empire – Vladimir Putin’s Russia”, presided over by the Lega Nord-linked Lombardy-Russian Cultural Association, whose honorary president is Alexey Komov, close associate of Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. An associate of Dugin, Malofeev was the employer of Alexander Borodai, self-proclaimed “Prime Minister” of the Russian-sponsored “Donetsk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine, as well as of its “Defense Minister” Igor Girkin. Girkin is the Russian FSB colonel and Dugin ally who has admitted leading Spetsnaz posing as a Crimean militia that worked to undermine Ukraine.
Another participant at the Milan conference was Lega Nord deputy and foreign relations secretary Claudio D’Amico, whose article supporting a Russian-directed “multipolar world” appears simultaneously on the Duginist Katehon and Geopolitica websites. He regurgitated Kremlin propaganda about Crimea in an interview with Sputnik. He was one of the 26 election “observers” representing various pro-Russian parties throughout Europe, that rubber-stamped the Russian annexation of Crimea on 16 March 2014.
Even while desiring to separate from the Italian nation they hold in contempt, Salvini and Lega Nord have spearheaded a parliamentary “Friends of Putin” movement. Lega Nord leaders have developed close trade and financial links with Russia, which it envisions as the favored trade partner in a separatist “Padania”. Salvini has been “a friend of Russia” since the beginning of his career in 2013. “Russia is a western democracy with which I want to pursue dialogue and build peace as well as doing business,” he told RT in December 2014.
The Kremlin has treated Salvini like a head of state, preferring him to the Italian government. Salvini received a standing ovation in the Russian Duma during an October 2014 trip to Moscow. Amidst the various world leaders he met with at the ASEM Summit in Milan, Putin met with Salvini. Putin has received warm receptions at rallies in Milan, the city that would be the capital of Lega Nord’s Padania. Salvini has also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, another indication of the Kremlin’s embrace of his separatist cause.
Lega Nord affiliates in the different regions have actively wooed Russia as a precursor to undermining the unity of Italia, making foreign policy decisions much like the Catalan separatist regime’s Diplocat has been doing against España. The separatist branches in Venice and Liguria have recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, an obvious contradiction in such separatist movements own push for devolution away from their national entities. In Orwellian doublespeak, Putin has drawn comparisons of Russia gobbling up the Crimea to regionalist movements in Europa that seek to form their own nations – a contradiction that has been obediently repeated in the Kremlin amen-corner’s media outlets.
Propaganda is at work in both Catalonia and “Padania”. Like their Catalan counterparts, Lega Nord represents a wealthy region that portrays itself as “oppressed” by the rest of the country. Both separatist movements are based on historical myths: Catalonia was never an independent country, always being linked to the Crown of Aragón, while northern Italy was a collection of various dukedoms, principalities and republics before the Italian Risorgimento – never a separate or united region called “Padania”. As with Catalonia, there are certain political elites financed and supported by foreign interests and linked to oligarchs, that peddle in such myths to give a legitimacy to what is nothing but a power-grab through Balkanization.
The Kremlin’s media have been magnifying these separatist movements, linking their causes. For example, interviewing Venetian separatist Stefano Valdegamberi on Catalonia: “The Veneto region and the Veneto people are very close to the Catalan people. We want to recognize that the will of Catalans is the most important thing for the international community. Spain recognizes other countries like Montenegro but they don’t accept something similar for themselves. They demonstrated they are not a democratic government.” Yet, while passing such judgement on the Spanish and Italian governments they give a free pass to Putin’s Russia as some kind of paragon of “democracy”. This is part of Putin’s double diplomatic game of projecting his own double standards onto España.
Unlike the outright independence push of Catalonia, the Veneto and Lombardy referendums are about autonomy. But its nevertheless understood as a “first step” towards separatism. “Now the right-wing Lega Nord party are calling for a referendum on separating the region of Emilia-Romagna into two sections,” a recent report by the Sunday Express stated. “And Lega Nord leader, Matteo Salvini pledged that, if Sunday’s votes are successful, there could be more across Italy.” Like their counterparts in Barcelona, this makes Lega Nord agents in the Kremlin’s demoralization campaign to weaken Europa.