Andrei Tarasov Claudio Christopher Passalacqua Raffaele Ventura


Italy used to have a conciliatory approach towards Russia when dealing with international crises, but this outlook changed with the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. This study aims to explain this puzzle by examining Italy's foreign policy change in response to three Russian conflicts in the post-Soviet space: Georgia (2008), Crimea (2014), and Ukraine (2022). In particular, this study analyzes changes in Italy's approach to sanctioning Russia both in terms of substantial and symbolic differences. To explain these changes, the study focuses on three main factors at the international level: Italy's position as a middle power in the international system, the level of economic interdependence between Italy and Russia, and the conflict intensity. By investigating these factors within three case studies, the empirical analysis suggests that Italy's position as a middle power was the main factor defining Italy’s substantial approach to Russia, which was in line with the common EU response to the three Russian conflicts. However, Italy's middle-power position also gave the country room to maneuver its symbolic approaches to Russia, which shifted from a soft approach to a rather hard one throughout the three conflicts. Empirical results indicate that this symbolic shift was mostly caused by a decrease in Italy's economic interdependence with Russia and the heightened intensity of the conflict in Ukraine.


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