Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Italian Deputy Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: Stefano Montesi - Corbis/Getty Images

The implication of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini in a campaign finance deal involving Russian funds highlights the expanding reach of Russian interference in nationalist, populist political movements across Europe.

Why it matters: Russia's foreign meddling aims to further its goals of weakening liberal democracies in the West and expanding its share of global influence. But the exposure of some of its efforts has come back to haunt the intended beneficiaries.

Details: Leaked audio revealed a meeting between associates of Salvini and Russians with ties to senior officials in Moscow.

  • In the October 2018 recording, Gianluca Savoini and two unidentified Italians discuss a scheme to funnel $65 million worth of oil profits to Salvini’s hard-right La Lega party ahead of Europe’s parliamentary elections in May.
  • It is uncertain whether the transaction took place; if it did, it would have been illegal under Italian law.

Context: This is just one front of a broad Russian campaign that often exploits legal loopholes.

  • In France, the Russian government sought to bolster the fortunes of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen with €9.4 million ($10.5 million) in loans from a now-defunct bank tied to Putin’s inner circle, skirting the ban on foreign election contributions by structuring its donation as a loan.
  • In the U.K., the then-Russian ambassador in London and other officials reportedly offered investment opportunities to the largest funder of the Leave.EU campaign.
  • Russia has a history of using firms in the notoriously opaque energy industry to wield influence through political financing in Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and other countries.

Flashback: Earlier this year, Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was forced to resign after it was exposed that he offered preferential contracts to individuals posing as Russian businessmen in exchange for kickbacks to his Freedom Party. The episode prompted the collapse of Austria’s coalition government.

What to watch: Two of Italy's former prime ministers have called for an investigation, and the public's reaction could determine the political future of one of Europe’s ascendant populists. On Tuesday, Salvini bowed to pressure and agreed to answer questions at a still-unscheduled hearing in Parliament.

Jessica Brandt is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the head of policy and research for its Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
6 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!