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Much of Sunday’s newspapers dedicated their opening headlines to statements by a Russian Foreign Ministry official, Alexei Paramonov, who gave the Russian news agency on Saturday Ria Novosti an interview full of complaints and veiled threats against Italy and other European countries.
The interview itself is not a particular novelty: similar statements against various Western countries are quite common in Russian propaganda. They were already there before the invasion began, and have become very frequent in recent weeks. In the course of the interview, however, Paramonov mentions with similar or greater evidence other countries besides Italy, such as France, Spain, and even Andorra and San Marino. The interview, therefore, is not a targeted threat to Italy, but rather a long list of complaints and threats against some of what the Russian government has defined as “hostile countries”. It is also made by a mid-level ministerial official, which reduces its diplomatic weight.
However, from certain points of view this interview has several notable elements: it is quite rare for Russia to condemn or directly attack Italy, given the historically good relationship that the two countries have.
The interview is also notable for some things said by Paramonov, who among other things recalled how Russia in 2020 sent a “humanitarian mission” to Italy while the country was facing the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
That mission was actually heavily criticized: the medical aid provided was not particularly relevant, while the presence of Russian military vehicles on Italian soil was considered alarming and suspicious. Paramonov, in any case, cites it as a sign of the ingratitude of Italy, which is now supporting sanctions against Russia.
The interview also cites the Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini who, according to the Russian official, asked the Russians for assistance during the pandemic but is now one of the main “hawks” in favor of sanctions. Guerini, to the Italian media, described the interview as a provocation.
The Italian government also intervened, defending Guerini and adding that “the comparison between the invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic crisis in Italy is particularly hateful and unacceptable”.
President Draghi: I express full solidarity with the Minister of Defense @guerini_lorenzo, victim of attacks by the Russian government. The comparison between the invasion of#Ukraine and the pandemic crisis in Italy is particularly hateful and unacceptable
– Palazzo_Chigi (@Palazzo_Chigi) March 19, 2022
Finally, Paramonov highlighted Italy’s energy dependence on Russia, and subtly threatened the possibility of interrupting gas and oil supplies, speaking of “irreversible consequences”. In reality, energy dependence also concerns Russia, which without the payments of the European Union countries for its exports of gas, oil and coal would suffer very serious economic consequences.
– Read also: What is Italy doing to reduce its dependence on Russian gas