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Italy's right criticises mass expulsions of Russian diplomats

Northern League leader and senator Matteo Salvini casts his vote at the Senate during the first session since the March 4 national election in Rome, Italy March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

ROME (Reuters) - League leader Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s conservative bloc of parties, criticised the United States and several EU countries on Monday for expelling Russian diplomats following a nerve agent attack in Britain.

The conservative alliance, which includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, emerged as the single largest group in parliament at a March 4 national election and is now seeking to build a coalition government.

“Boycotting Russia, renewing sanctions and expelling diplomats does not resolve problems, it aggravates them,” Salvini said in a Tweet.

A swathe of Western nations announced earlier that they would expel dozens of Russian diplomats in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that London has blamed on Moscow.

Italy’s outgoing centre-left government joined the move, ordering the removal of two Russian diplomats, a decision that angered Salvini’s far-right ally, Giorgia Meloni, who heads the Brothers of Italy party.

“Unacceptable that a caretaker government has expelled two staffers at the Russian embassy,” Meloni tweeted, accusing the administration of being servile to foreign states.

“Luckily it will soon no longer be in a position to damage Italy’s national interests,” she added.

Italy is traditionally one of the most pro-Russian countries in Europe but, even within that context, the rightist parties have been eager to up the ante and voice their fierce support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Salvini’s League last year signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party, but he has repeatedly denied suggestions that he has taken money from Moscow to pay for his political campaigns.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kevin Liffey