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Italy

Italy

  • Countering Islamic propaganda is considered to be a much more relevant topic than countering propaganda spread by Russia.
  •  Good relations with Russia and the existence of pro-Russian politicians prevent Italy from acknowledging Russian disinformation campaigns.
  • Civil society plays a crucial role in media literacy of Italian citizens.

Relations with the Russian Federation


Kremlin friendly. Does not feel threatened and is advocating for better relations with Russia, often regardless what atrocities Moscow is responsible for. Often supports Kremlin’s foreign policy objectives, such as stopping further sanctions under arguments related to appeasement or alleged business ties.[1]

Though traditionally a country with deep economic ties to Russia, Italy showed a strong support for a common EU and NATO stance on Russia. At the same time, Italy does not wish to completely alienate Russia, and it believes that a dialogue is possible. Still, Italy has shown disapproval towards Russian actions in Syria, but its national security is more concerned with the refugee flow over Mediterranean than with any immediate threats which Russia may pose to Italy. Italian politics is full of pro-Russian elements and many politicians believe that the EU sanctions are harmful to Italy, and therefore they should be lifted.[2]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Overall, Italian authorities are not much interested in the topic of Russian subversion, partly because of the good relationship between the two countries and the frequent presence of pro-Russian attitude among Italian politicians. Countering Islamic propaganda is considered to be a much more relevant topic than countering propaganda spread by Russia.

The problem of disinformation started to resonate in Italy during and after the failed constitutional referendum in December 2016 with the former comedian Beppe Grillo and his populist party the Five Star Movement spreading fake news and pro-Russian propaganda. His party is currently in the governing coalition.

Equally concerning, Lega Nord, a far-right party present in the current government coalition, signed an agreement with Putin’s United Russia. The Kremlin’s fellow travellers in unrecognized Abkhazia and Transnistria have taken similar steps. The Lega Nord-dominated Veneto regional council also “voted in support of a resolution that urges the national government to condemn the European Union’s Crimea policy and work toward lifting the sanctions against Russia,”[3] undermining the central government’s foreign policy.

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Regarding cyber security, Italy is a little behind countries such as, for example, Germany or France. It is only in the past couple of years that the country has recognised cyber as a new domain of warfare.[4] As far as Russian disinformation and influence operations are concerned, the current National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security from 2013 does not provide any information about such threats.[5] According to the 2015 White Paper for International Security and Defence, “there is a high risk that in the future, even in conventional conflicts, enemy forces will use unconventional or asymmetric forms of fighting more frequently (hybrid threats),” which is almost everything the paper says about this issue.[6]

The Italian government is currently working on a new cyber security strategy, which should bring more effective prevention and reactions to cyber attacks. In early 2017, the Joint Command for Cyberspace Operations was established, however, it is not yet possible to evaluate how operational the unit is.

Italy is a sponsoring nation of NATO STRATCOM COE but does not actively engage in other joint activities at the EU level, including the EEAS East STRATCOM Task Force.

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference

The Italian secret services are more concerned with the threat posed by Islamic extremism than with the one posed by Russia.[7] The vulnerability of Italian cyber defence was exposed this February when Italian authorities discovered a cyber attack on Italian foreign ministry, which lasted for more than four months. Russia is suspected to be behind the attack and, according to the Italians, no sensitive information was acquired by the attackers.[8]

Activities of the non-governmental sector


There are a lot of institutions which, at least to a certain extent, deal with the topic of propaganda and disinformation campaigns (not only by the Russian Federation but also by ISIS). To name some, there is, for example, the Centre for International Studies (Centro Studi Internazionali, Ce.S.I.), the Luigi Sturzo Institute, the Italian Standing Group on International Relations (SGRI) of the Italian Society of Political Science (SIPS), the Istituto Affari Internazionali, and other mostly quality think-tanks.

The non-governmental actors also play a crucial role regarding media literacy. Since there are neither legal or institutional frames for media education nor well established policies to promote it at the state level, there has been a great amount of grass roots projects and initiatives for a long time.[9]


[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] Janda, Sharibzhanov, Terzi, Krejčí and Fišer: “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression?”. European Values Think-Tank. 22 April 2017. Available at: Janda, Sharibzhanov, Terzi, Krejčí and Fišer: “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression?”. European Values Think-Tank. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/vyzkum/european-democracies-react-russian-aggression/ 
[3] “Italy-Russia Relations,” accessed November 27, 2017, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/it-forrel-ru.htm
[4] Tom Reeve: “Italy gets mixed review on cyber-security from CRI 2.0”. SC Magazine UK. 22 November 2016. Available at: https://www.scmagazineuk.com/italy-gets-mixed-review-on-cyber-security-from-cri-20/article/574854/ 
[5] “National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security”. Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Italian Republic. December 2013. Available at: https://www.sicurezzanazionale.gov.it/sisr.nsf/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/italian-national-strategic-framework-for-cyberspace-security.pdf 
[6] http://www.difesa.it/Primo_Piano/Documents/2015/07_Luglio/White%20book.pdf 
[7] Marco Ludovico: “Italian Intelligence Agency alerts the country to higher risks of Islamic terrorism”. ItalyEurope24. 10 March 2017. Available at: http://www.italy24.ilsole24ore.com/art/business-and-economy/2017-03-07/italian-intelligence-agency-alerts-the-country-to-higher-risks-of-islamic-terrorism-103624.php?uuid=AEvJBKj 
[8] Stephanie Kirchgaessner: “Russia suspected over hacking attack on Italian foreign ministry” The Guardian. 10 February 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/10/russia-suspected-over-hacking-attack-on-italian-foreign-ministry 
[9] Piearmarco Aroldi, Maria Francesca Murru: “Media and Information Literacy Policies in Italy (2013)”. OssCom, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. May 2014. Available at: http://ppemi.ens-cachan.fr/data/media/colloque140528/rapports/ITALY_2014.pdf 

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