Reviews | Putin could benefit from right-wing victories in European elections

Whether or not it prevails in last Sunday’s Swedish elections – the results are too close to announce – the strong presence of a right-wing bloc whose main supporter is a party steeped in neo-Nazi ideology is a troubling twist. Even more astonishing would be what polls and political analysts are now predicting in Italy’s September 25 elections: the outright victory of a far-right coalition whose history, values ​​and policies pose a direct challenge to European unity, an outcome Russian dictator Vladimir Putin would celebrate and try to exploit.

Sweden is a small country whose shock at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put it on the path to NATO membership. Its domestic social problems – a spike in gang and gun violence that many Swedes associate with migrants – spurred the rise of the right-wing bloc, particularly the misleadingly named Swedish Democrats (whose founders included white supremacists) who received about 20% of the vote. If the bloc wins, it would be a mistake to include this party in government.

Italy is a much bigger country, and its elections portend what could be a much bigger problem for Europe. As things stand, the Italian politician whose party is leading in the polls, Giorgia Meloni, could become the first far-right politician to lead a major eurozone economy, a seismic event. By raising it, Italy would be marginalized in Europe.

Ms. Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, is rooted in segments of Italian society that worshiped Benito Mussolini, the World War II fascist dictator whom Ms. Meloni herself once openly admired. She has recently positioned herself as an outsider, mainly by keeping her party out of the broad-coalition government led by former Prime Minister Mario Draghi, which collapsed in July. That, along with an ostensibly pro-traditional family platform that attacks immigration and LGBTQ rights, formed the basis of his rise – along with a stagnant economy and the splintering of the center-left. Absurdly, she swore a naval blockade to prevent migrants from landing on Italian shores. In fact, a greater threat to Italy’s future is the hundreds of thousands of young people leaving to find jobs, not the tens of thousands of migrants arriving to seek them.

Ms Meloni has recently toned down her rhetoric, perhaps prompted by the $200 billion in pandemic relief funds Italy expects from the European Union. She has also been ruthless in attacking Russia’s campaign in Ukraine and Mr. Putin himself. Worryingly, however, two of his main coalition partners, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, have taken more spongy positions. A week ago, Salvini questioned Western sanctions against Russia, suggesting they could hurt Europe more than Russia.

This speech is a balm for Mr. Putin. As his army falters in the face of Ukraine’s counterattack, the Russian strongman has stepped up his energy pressure on Western Europe, which is bracing for shortages of natural gas to heat homes and power businesses this winter. The prospect of growing discord over sanctions in a key eurozone economy could be Russia’s best chance to ease sanctions and improve its faltering fortunes. Italians should think twice before handing Mr. Putin such a gift.