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Moscow refutes ‘fantasy’ report on ‘secret talks’ between Salvini & Russian deputy PM

Moscow refutes ‘fantasy’ report on ‘secret talks’ between Salvini & Russian deputy PM
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has never met Italy’s Matteo Salvini in person, his spokesman said, denying a report on an alleged shady deal the two struck to fund Salvini’s Lega Party with Russian money.

Kozak has never held any talks with Salvini, a spokesman of the Russian deputy government head, Ilya Dzhus, told journalists on Sunday.

He referred to an “investigative piece”published by Italy’s L'Espresso weekly earlier this week, in which it claimed the Italian deputy prime minister secretly met his Russian colleague in Moscow to discuss the terms of a deal that would supposedly allow his right-wing Lega Party get a hefty sum of money from Russia ahead of the European elections.

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“The so-called ‘investigation’ by the Italian L'Espresso is based on some flimsy fantasies that do no credit to the media outlet,” Dzhus told journalists. “Kozak never had any personal contacts to Salvini, never held any official or 'secret' meetings with him,” he said.

Kozak’s agenda does involve “bilateral economic cooperation with Italy, including that in the fields of energy and industry.”

The controversial piece claims that Russia presumably sought to support Italy’s Eurosceptic Lega Party at the European parliamentary elections by giving it €3 million worth of money disguised as part of a deal between Russia’s oil giant Rosneft and Italy’s state-owned energy company Eni.

The article by the popular Italian magazine mentions nothing about the original sources of its information, but instead says that the whole story is part of a forthcoming book written by a couple of its journalists, which seems to be targeting Lega. It also scarcely mentions Salvini and Kozak, but instead says that the deal was largely orchestrated by the Italian deputy prime minister’s former spokesman, Gianluca Savoini, who conveniently turns out to be the president of the Lombardy-Russia cultural association.

The photos that Giovanni Tizian and Stefano Vergine – the authors of the hit-piece – showed as the supposed proof of their claims also do not demonstrate anything particularly incriminating.  They picture the aftermath of a conference, which Salvini officially attended in Moscow, an outer view of a building where he reportedly met Kozak, and also show Savoini sitting at a table at Moscow’s Metropol Hotel’s restaurant – allegedly ahead of the “secret talks,” as the journalists spin it.

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Despite lack of any solid proof, the story quickly got reprinted by some media, such as the Guardian and the Daily Beast. The Italian journalists behind the investigation admitted that they do not really know if the deal was struck at all as they presumably finished their “investigation” before the end of the negotiations.

Despite that the Daily Beast quoted them as saying: “The main Italian government force is supported by [the Russian President Vladimir ] Putin, the number one enemy of the EU.”

While the Italian opposition lawmakers rushed to describe L'Espresso’s claims as “worrying,” Salvini’s office brushed off any such allegations outright by saying that they “are not commenting on fantasies.”

Russia’s Rosneft, which was also mentioned in the hit-piece previously published by Italy’s La Stampa as well, demanded the journalists retract their claims. “All the information about Rosneft in this article is incorrect and is a lie aimed at damaging the business reputation of the company,” it said in a statement.

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It is not the first attempt to accuse Salvini of “colluding” with the Kremlin. Last year, the Italian deputy prime minister vehemently rejected similar accusations made by controversial billionaire George Soros. An outspoken Italian politician, who repeatedly criticized anti-Russian sanctions and supported recognizing Crimea’s reunification with Russia, said at that time that he “never received any lira, euro or ruble from Russia.”

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