Russians love Italy and the Italians’ eye for beauty. Hence, Rome, Tuscany, Milan, Lake Como are favored destinations for the Russian elite that can travel.
On Thursday, another of those Russian pilgrims — President Vladimir Putin — paid a visit to Rome, not to take in the sights but in an attempt to burnish the special relationship between the two countries. The clear subtext of Mr. Putin’s trip was an attempt to widen the splits the European Union over sanctions against the Kremlin for its aggressive behavior in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and elsewhere.
Bilateral trade is up in spite of the EU sanctions, growing by 12.7% in 2018 to $26.9 billion. Italian investments in Russia so far this year have reached $4.7 billion, while Russian investments in Italy in the same period were $2.7 billion, the Associated Press reports.
However, overall U.S. and European sanctions against Moscow are biting as the Russian economy limps along with sub-1% growth. Russia has lost an estimated $50 billion in GDP growth since 2014, when it grabbed Crimea.
The Italian leadership is sympathetic to Moscow’s agenda. Nationalist Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and other Italian politicians have made no secret of their desire to remove all trade restrictions against the Russian Federation in order to kick-start Russian investment and travel to Italy.
A fascinating side event during Mr. Putin’s trip was the visit to the Vatican and Pope Francis. The Kremlin has intertwined its fortunes over the last decade with those of the Russian Orthodox Church. The two entities prop up each other’s power, following in the footsteps of the old tsars which were considered installed by divine providence.
There are churches everywhere in Moscow these days. Bells are constantly ringing from the onion-domed structures. More churches are being built throughout the Russian Federation. So many houses are being erected that there was a recent conflict in Ekaterinburg over the Russian Orthodox Church’s plan to build a cathedral in a city park. The project was eventually cancelled due to the intense local opposition.
The Orthodox Church, with Kremlin help, is planning on spending billions of rubles on a new “Russian Vatican.”
The Roman Catholic Church, which is cultivating Moscow for its own reasons, helped Mr. Putin immensely in this narrative by issuing a statement prior to the Russian leader’s visit with the pope.
“The Russian president is considered to be a man of faith, and I think that he recognizes the values important to him personally as being embodied in the pope,” declared The Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
“Besides, Russia pays special attention to such issues as protection of Christians in the Middle East and the crisis of Christian values in Western society. … This meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss these issues, as well as the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.”
Mr. Putin has a point when it comes to his criticisms recently in a Financial Times interview regarding the failures of the liberal order in the West. I’m not giving a pass to Kremlin oppression of the media or its actions in Ukraine.
But while Western libraries host “Drag Queen Story Hour” and show no respect for the morals, values and cultural practices they are supposed to be safeguarding, Russian law prohibits teaching homosexual propaganda to children and is trying to reverse lax rules that led to an epidemic of abortions under the old Soviet leadership. Those are simply facts.
If the West does not retake some semblance of sanity and morality when it comes to these issues, more and more governments previously under the Soviet boot will gravitate more towards Moscow’s influence and defense of traditional values. Because if a ‘“liberal society” means the casual destruction of life and the sexual abuse of children, then I don’t think most Americans want that either.
Freedom has to be used responsibly; right now in the West, it’s not.
Originally posted at The Washington Times