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Italy has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine — but that could change


Since Russia's invasion in February, Italy has been one of the European Union's staunchest supporters of Ukraine. But as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, there is concern that Ukraine fatigue is beginning to set in.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Last month Italy got a new right-wing coalition government. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has vowed she will continue her predecessor's staunch support and military assistance for Ukraine. But polls show that fewer than 40% of Italians approve, says Stefano Feltri, editor of the daily Domani.

STEFANO FELTRI: Italy is - by large, it's the most skeptical country in Europe in supporting Ukraine on a military basis. We are open to Ukrainian migrants and refugees, but the military option is very unpopular from left and right.

POGGIOLI: Businesses have shut down due to rising energy costs, and inflation is at 11%. The NOMISMA Research Institute reports that 62% of Italian households currently live on less than $2,000 a month, and many blame the war in Ukraine for their economic woes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: This weekend in Rome, tens of thousands marched in the biggest national peace rally since the war started. Organizers say 100,000 people took part. The rally was organized by trade unions, numerous Catholic associations and peace groups. Banners carry the words peace, no to war and stop sending weapons. Many protesters say sending weapons to Ukraine further fuels the conflict. Stefania Vaziolo came all the way from Venice to proclaim her opposition to assisting Ukraine.

STEFANIA VAZIOLO: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "Europe is very weak now and subject to American authority," says Vaziolo. And she's absolutely convinced the United States has vested interest that the war in Ukraine continue indefinitely. The majority of marchers acknowledge that Russia started the war but add it's high time for peace talks. Yet when asked, most are vague exactly how the warring parties can be brought to the negotiating table. One of the politicians here is Laura Boldrini, an MP of the left-of-center Democratic Party.

LAURA BOLDRINI: (Through interpreter) We have to get a ceasefire. And also, we have to try to get an international conference with all the world leaders to impose peace and put Putin in a condition that he has no choice.

POGGIOLI: The government is set to approve Italy's sixth package of military aid for Ukraine, and Prime Minister Meloni has stated Italy will never be the weak link of the West. But some analysts are beginning to wonder.

FEDERICO FUBINI: I have doubts that her pro-Ukrainian stance can be consistently maintained in the future.

POGGIOLI: Federico Fubini, editorialist at the daily Corriere della Sera, says Meloni faces opposition from within her own ranks.

FUBINI: To say bluntly, she's a populist. And she perceives that large parts of the Italian public opinion, especially among, you know, center-right and rightist voters, are not so much for sanctions and not so much for Ukraine.

POGGIOLI: Fubini says Meloni's position on sanctions differs from the previous government. Meloni has floated the idea Italy could be compensated by the EU for economic losses inflicted by the sanctions, a request that could cause a serious rift in what up to now has been Europe's united front on Ukraine. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.