Italy’s Crisis Redoubles European Foreboding

One Italian government crisisonce so frequent that it is almost non-existent, has shown the fragility of a Europe facing rising energy prices, a plunging currency, faltering leadership, and a war in Ukraine that time has failed to happen. time seems to favor Russia’s autocratic resolve to the West’s democratic uncertainty.

That uncertainty engulfed Italy this week as Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a symbol of Europe’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression, resigned in response to a populist uprising in politics. his government of national unity – was only asked to persist at least until next week. One of the issues that divides Mr. Draghi’s coalition is the cost of a proposed incinerator in Rome, not something Russian President Putin has to worry about.

“Yesterday they raised a toast in Moscow, because Mario Draghi’s head was served to Putin on a silver platter,” said Luigi di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister. “Autocracies are congratulating and democracies are more dominant.”

Mr. Draghi, who has been stepped down by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, could remain in office. Democracies, which are flexible, often surprise autocrats with their flaws. However, a host of Italian centre-right and far-right politicians who sympathize with Mr. Putin are waiting in the wings. An early election, possible if not already possible, could put one of them in power.

Europe is being tested, not only on the united front with Russia, but also in the resilience of its democracies. Nationalist forces, often skeptical of the European Union and drawn to Russia, were held back in the major powers, but not tamed.

When Putin cuts off gas supplies to a third of the continent’s gas needs, a winter of discontent will set in. Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, the leaders of France and Germany, sometimes appear detached as they face the painful dilemma of saving Ukraine without provoking nuclear war with Russia.

“Time is the poison of the West and Putin’s allies,” said one European diplomat, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak in public. “However, we must win this test of will.”

The test for the West will be tough between now and the end of the year. The euro, the common currency of 19 European Union countries, has fallen 11% against the dollar this year and for the first time in two decades, hit parity with the US dollar this week – exchange rate 1-1 exchange. Inflation continued to rise. Shortages of some products and wildfires accompanied by heatwaves, even in previously untouched northern parts of France, have given Europeans a sense of anticipation.

For many Europeans, the euro’s slide to parity is an apt symbol of how the war in Ukraine poses economic problems for Europe, which is far more severe than for the United States. President Biden’s determination to support Ukraine militarily, rather than seeking some diplomatic outcome, could turn sour as winter rolls around.

Putin’s gas squeeze has prompted the German government to warn of an impending recession. Companies and households are gearing up for a gas-saving winter, while homeowners, schools and cities have begun cooling down, cutting down on air conditioning and dimming street lights. There was muttering about America’s readiness to fight on the eastern flank of Germany to the last of the Ukrainians.

Italy is looking to speed up energy independence from Russia, in part by turning to Algeria for new gas supplies, while also ramping up renewable energy sources and burning more coal to keep homes is lit and businesses operate.

France, less vulnerable because it has a large nuclear power industry, is pushing for an “energy restriction plan” that Mr. Macron called necessary in a television interview this week. “This war will continue, but France will always be ready to help Ukraine,” the French president said.

That is a distance from his statement to the Ukrainian leadership in Kyiv last month that “Europe is by your side and will remain so until victory is achieved.”

Alternate statements by the French leader – stressing the need to avoid “humiliating” Russia and saying “we are not here to fight against Russia” while also vowing to ensure Ukraine “victory” – caused some outrage in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. .

Nowhere is Europe’s dilemma more acutely felt than in Germany, a nation ostensibly war-averse, uneasily dependent on Mr. Putin for energy, and torn between resentment over morals in the face of Russia’s massacres of civilians and the deadly fear of starting World War III.

In a much-reviewed May essay, applauding Scholz’s caution, Jurgen Habermas, the famous German philosopher, wrote: “The West, with the drastic sanctions they impose booked very early, there was no doubt about it. in fact Participation in this conflict, therefore, must therefore carefully weigh each additional level of military assistance to determine if it can cross the undefined boundary to enter the conflict officially. war or not – unknown because it depends on Putin’s own definition”.

However, the caution of Mr. Scholz, clearly shows the slowness and blandness in the delivery of German weapons to Ukraine, can look like weakness. As the Russian onslaught continues into the winter, even with heavy Russian losses, Europe’s sense of helplessness and impoverishment may intensify.

The upcoming midterm elections in the United States have added to uncertainty across the continent, with questions in European capitals about how much power Mr Biden will command and how much power he will have how much determination to confront Russia after November. The resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine, could be a blow to the most uncompromising wing of the campaign. Western war against Russia.

Nathalie Tocci, director of the Institute of International Affairs in Rome, said she saw no conflict over the West’s resolve, despite the crisis in her country. “Russia’s levels of violence are so erotic that it is impossible to reduce Western support or reverse sanctions,” she said.

That could change, however, “if a cold and expensive winter in Europe, combined with a lull in war, makes the siren of peace irresistible.”

One measure of Europe’s political change is the unusual importance that Draghi, the former president of the European Central Bank, has assumed. Italy was the first major Western country to publicly support Ukraine’s eventual membership in the European Union. Turning Italy away from Mr. Putin’s dubious relationship with Russia, he is more comfortable with a clear stance against Moscow than Mr. Macron or Mr. Scholz.

“In terms of geopolitics, Italy will lose a lot of power,” said Lucio Caracciolo, editor of Limes, an Italian magazine that focuses on geopolitics. “Draghi has prestige and Draghi is Italy. If he falls, so will Italy.”

Putin recently stated: “I would like to say and emphasize that we have many supporters, including in the United States and Europe, and even more so in other continents and countries. other. And their number will be increasing, no doubt about it”.

Mr. Draghi took a stand and confused Mr. Putin’s predictions. He gave Italy something it often lacked: predictability. That can go if he goes; and Italian unpredictability will be a concern across an already uncomfortable Europe.

Report contributed by Jason Horowitz and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome, and Liz Alderman and Aurelien Breeden from Paris.

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