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Polish mayor confronts Italy’s Salvini over friendship with Putin

Matteo Salvini’s admiration for Vladimir Putin came back to bite him during a visit to Poland on Tuesday when a local mayor reminded the Italian far-right leader of the appalling actions of “the person you call a friend.”

Salvini, head of Italy’s League party, was in Przemyśl on the border with Ukraine when the mayor, Wojciech Bakun, held up a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s face and the words “Army of Russia” during a press conference, videos posted on social media showed.

Salvini wore a similar shirt during a visit to Red Square in 2014, when he was a member of the European Parliament. He also wore a similar shirt a year later in the Parliament in Strasbourg, posing for a photograph and writing (in a now-deleted post) on Facebook that he would “swap” two of Italian President Sergio Mattarella for “half” a Putin.

Standing next to a visibly uncomfortable Salvini, Bakun said: “Look at what the person you call a friend did to the people who come across the border in numbers of 50,000 a day.” He then said they could go visit a refugee center if Salvini wore the same T-shirt that he sported in Red Square.

Salvini interrupted Bakun, saying: “We are helping refugees, children, moms, dads, from Ukraine.” The Italian then walked away.

Salvini has long declared his admiration for the Russian president. In 2017, he signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party, while League officials were probed for allegations that they sought to sign a secretive oil deal with the Kremlin in 2018 worth millions of euros. (Salvini denied any wrongdoing.)

But the far-right leader has sung a different tune since Putin invaded Ukraine, taking to Twitter to “condemn any military aggression” and calling for a “common response from allies,” before posting a video of him bringing flowers to the Ukrainian embassy in Rome.

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