Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited the capital of Ukraine on February 21st. Coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, she is joining the chorus of world leaders like Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin who have been giving speeches to mark the occasion. It also reveals the ambition by the Italian prime minister to play a more proactive role on the European stage.
Meloni’s Kyiv trip comes a day after President Biden’s talk with Volodymyr Zelensky and her own visit to Warsaw.
The Italian prime minister arrived by train in Kyiv and was met by a Ukrainian delegation that included the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Yebhen Perebynis. She then proceeded to visit Irpin and Bucha, two towns in the vicinity of Kyiv that were hard hit during the initial stages of the invasion, where she paid homage to the victims. In Irpin, Meloni struck out at Putin’s speech that morning, saying “what we heard this morning was propaganda that we already know.”
She also referred to the destruction she saw in Irpin. “The facts are different … It is one thing to talk about numbers, it’s another to see for yourself the lives of people destroyed for no reason,” she said, taking a dig at the statistics-laden speech of the Russian president.
While speculation in the Italian media over the possible supply of fighter jets to Ukraine has proven false, the prime minister said Italy was committed to providing air defence systems in tandem with France.
Speaking at a press conference Meloni paid tribute to the strength of Ukrainian resistance:
[The invasion] was supposed to last a few days but things didn’t go as expected. They didn’t go as expected because [Russia] evidently underestimated the heroic reaction of a people willing to do everything they could to defend their freedom, their sovereignty, their identity.
However, Meloni’s speech differed from many other speeches, which have variously attributed Ukraine’s strength in resistance to a belief in democracy, liberalism, or in ‘European values.’ Instead, Meloni attributed it to nationalism, and equated it with Italy’s unification in the 19th century.
It reminded me of the birth of the Italian state … because there was a time when it was said Italy as a nation did not exist, and it was said that Italy was simply a geographical expression. The Italian risorgimento arrived and Italy proved to be a nation.
Some believed it would have been easy to break Ukraine because Ukraine was not a nation, but with the ability you had to resist you have proven to be an extraordinary nation. And therefore in the meantime I want to say that Ukraine, in the eyes of the world, has already won its battle to reclaim its identity.
While there has been some controversy over her coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi’s remarks on the war, Meloni has been an ardent supporter of the Ukrainian cause since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The Ukrainian Ambassador to Italy said the visit represents “another strong symbol of support for Ukraine.”