Saboteurs blamed for Russia pipeline explosions. Pacific plan unveiled. Violent crackdown on protests over death of Mahsa Amini. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Italy elects far-right nationalist Giorgia Meloni as PM

The leader of Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, reacts at the party’s election night headquarters in Rome.
The leader of Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, reacts at the party’s election night headquarters in Rome.
Credit: Reuters / Guglielmo Mangiapane

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: European leaders this week blamed saboteurs for explosions that led to massive gas leaks in pipelines linking Russia to Germany, as the Russian military prepared for an intensified assault in Ukraine.

The leaks in the two Nord Stream pipelines – which were filled with natural gas but are not currently in use – followed undersea explosions near a Danish island on Monday. One of the explosions was equivalent to a magnitude-2.3 earthquake.

“There’s no doubt, this is not an earthquake,” said Björn Lund, from the Swedish National Seismic Network.

Denmark, Sweden, Poland and the European Union said the leaks were due to sabotage but did not name a suspect. Ukraine said Russia attacked the pipelines to try to destabilise Europe.

A Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said the leaks were “very concerning” and called for an investigation. 

Before the war, European countries were heavily reliant on Russian gas, but they have restricted imports due to Russia’s invasion. In February, Germany suspended the Nord Stream 2 project. In an apparent response to these measures, Russia’s Gazprom shut Nord Stream 1 in August. 

The attacks on the pipelines came as Russian state media confirmed that four Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine had voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia. Support for joining Russia was reportedly 98 per cent in Luhansk, 93 per cent in Zaporizhzhia, 87 per cent in Kherson, and 99 per cent in Donetsk, where counting was continuing. NATO dismissed the referendums as a sham. Ukraine said Russian soldiers oversaw the voting and threatened to detain those who refused to participate. 

The annexations would allow Moscow to view Ukrainian operations in the territories as direct attacks on Russia.

Ahead of the referendums, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation of about 300,000 troops. The announcement has prompted tens of thousands of Russians to flee to Mongolia, Finland, Georgia and Kazakhstan and across Europe. In Russia, at least 2000 people have been arrested for holding protests against the conscription. 

Dmitry Kuriliyunok, a Russian who travelled to Georgia with his wife and daughter to avoid being drafted, told Reuters this week: “To die and to kill others, and for what? We don’t understand.” 

The neighbourhood 

United States: The White House this week unveiled a new plan to boost ties across the Pacific at a landmark summit between United States President Joe Biden and leaders of Pacific countries aimed at countering China’s growing reach in the region.

The Biden administration was set to announce a $US860 million scheme to expand its investments in the Pacific and had reportedly secured the backing of all states for a declaration committing to co-operation on areas such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and illegal fishing. According to The Washington Post, the declaration was supported by Solomon Islands, which initially indicated it needed more time to consider it.

Solomon Islands signed a secret security pact with Beijing earlier this year, prompting concern in the US, Australia and New Zealand about China’s ties in the region.

Manasseh Sogavare, the prime minister of Solomon Islands, has pursued closer relations with China, including switching diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.

The summit, held in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, was due to include meetings with Biden, house speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US was expected to announce plans to expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific from six missions to nine, and to create a new ambassador to the Pacific Islands Forum.

In May, China held a meeting with 10 Pacific states and proposed they support a wideranging regional deal committing to enhanced security and economic ties.

 But the Pacific states rejected the proposal, saying they had not had time to consider it and had been unable to form a consensus.

Democracy in retreat 

Italy: Giorgia Meloni, a far-right anti-migrant nationalist, is set to become Italy’s first female prime minister – and the country’s most right-wing leader since Mussolini – after the resounding electoral success of her Brothers of Italy party.

Meloni, who is 45 years old, became involved in politics as a 15-year-old when she joined the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement. She has attacked the “LGBT lobby” and the “globalist” left, and pledged to defend Italy against mass migration and “the violence of Islam”. In a 2019 speech, she famously declared: “I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian.” 

But Meloni, who co-founded the Brothers of Italy party in 2012, appeared to moderate during the election campaign, criticising Mussolini and indicating she will work with the European Union. Unlike some of her colleagues in her new right-wing coalition, she is a staunch supporter of Ukraine. 

Meloni’s success was welcomed by nationalist leaders in Hungary and Poland and is likely to embolden Europe’s far-right political movements. Italy is the third-largest economy in the EU after Germany and France. 

The election in Italy followed the collapse of Mario Draghi’s short-lived national unity coalition. Brothers of Italy was the only major party to stay out of the coalition.

At the election, Meloni’s party won 26 per cent of the vote compared with 19 per cent for the centre-left Democratic Party.

Spotlight: Death of Mahsa Amini

Tehran: Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iran’s Kurdish region, was visiting Tehran with her family last month when she was arrested by the country’s morality police for wearing her hijab incorrectly. She was put into a police van, beaten until she was unconscious, and then taken to hospital where she lay in a coma for three days before dying. 

The death of Amini has sparked public fury, especially as it followed a series of incidents in which women were filmed or observed being brutally arrested over apparent breaches of the country’s dress code. For the past two weeks, protests have been held across the country and often led by women, including some who have publicly burnt their hijabs. Protesters have denounced the supreme leader, 83-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and chanted “Woman, life, freedom”.

But the regime has launched a violent crackdown that has left at least 41 protesters dead. Hundreds have been arrested. Authorities also shut down the internet and restricted phone use to try to prevent the release of footage of the protests. 

Wearing the hijab was made compulsory in Iran in 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution. Protests against the mandate have been held for decades, and women have often been at the forefront of the country’s reform movements.

But the controversial election last year of President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric, has hardened the regime’s approach. Raisi has overseen greater enforcement of the hijab mandate and introduced other measures, such as barring women from appearing in film advertisements.

Amini’s hospitalisation was first reported by Niloofar Hamedi, a journalist at an Iranian daily newspaper. Hamedi has since been arrested. She is being held in solitary confinement at Evin Prison in Tehran.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 1, 2022 as "Oh, Brothers – Italy elects far-right nationalist as PM".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription