Revealed: The Explosive Secret Recording That Shows How Russia Tried To Funnel Millions To The “European Trump”
Six men sat down for a business meeting on the morning of October 18 last year, amid the hubbub and marble-columned opulence of Moscow’s iconic Metropol Hotel, to discuss plans for a “great alliance.”
A century earlier, the grand institution was the scene of events that helped change the face of Europe and the world: Czarist forces fought from inside the hotel as they tried and failed to hold the Bolsheviks back from the Kremlin in 1917, and it was here, in suite 217, that the first Soviet Constitution was drafted after the revolution succeeded.
The six men — three Russians, three Italians — gathered beneath the spectacular painted glass ceiling in the hotel lobby last October had their eyes on history too. Their nominal purpose was an oil deal; their real goal was to undermine liberal democracies and shape a new, nationalist Europe aligned with Moscow.
The recording reveals the elaborate lengths the two sides were willing to go to conceal the fact that the true beneficiary of the deal would be Salvini’s party — a breach of Italian electoral law, which bans political parties from accepting large foreign donations — despite the comfort with which he and Europe’s other far-right leaders publicly parade their pro-Kremlin political sympathies.
“We want to change Europe,” said longtime Salvini aide Gianluca Savoini — who dined alongside Vladimir Putin at a government banquet to celebrate the Russian president’s visit to Rome last week. “A new Europe has to be close to Russia as before because we want to have our sovereignty,” he continued over the clinking of coffee cups and buzz of conversation around the lobby.
As well as releasing excerpts of the Metropol tape — the existence of which is being revealed for the first time today — BuzzFeed News is also publishing a transcript of the entire recording.
Salvini — described enthusiastically by the Russians on the tape as the “European Trump” — did not attend the meeting himself, but he was in Moscow at the time. The previous day he gave a speech in which he denounced sanctions against Russia as “economic, social, and cultural folly” before reportedly meeting with the Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Kozak, and a powerful member of Putin’s United Russia party named Vladimir Pligin.
Although BuzzFeed News has been unable to identify the Russians at the Metropol meeting, the tape contains clear indications that high-level government figures in Moscow were aware of the negotiations — including those with whom Salvini had reportedly met the previous evening. The Russian negotiators can be heard referring to “yesterday’s meeting” without specifying the attendees, saying twice that they would have to feed details back to the “deputy prime minister,” and explaining they were hoping to get the “green light” from “Mr. Pligin” the following week.
The Lega leader has vehemently denied ever receiving any foreign money to fund his party.
But the Metropol tape provides the first hard evidence of Russia’s clandestine attempts to fund Europe’s nationalist movements, and the apparent complicity of some senior figures from the far right in those attempts.
While it’s unclear whether the agreement negotiated at the Metropol hotel was ever executed, or if Lega received any funding, the existence of the recording of a detailed negotiation raises serious questions about whether Italian laws were broken, the links between Moscow and Salvini’s Lega party, and the integrity of May’s European elections.
European politics has been shadowed for years by the suggestion that Russian commercial transactions with far-right leaders had a hidden political purpose.
French National Rally leader Marine Le Pen took €11 million in loans from Russian banks, including one close to the Kremlin, in 2014 — a year after she publicly backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea — but insisted the deal was commercial, not political.
The leader of Austria's far-right FPÖ party, Heinz-Christian Strache, was forced to resign in May after being caught in a sting in which he was filmed discussing the exchange of public contracts for Russian campaign support. The leaked video was published by the German news outlets Süddeutsche Zeitung and Spiegel, though it remains unclear who set up the sting.
The Metropol meeting bears all the hallmarks of a real negotiation rather than a sting. And while questions remain unanswered about Russia’s previous financial maneuvers with nationalist figures, the recording offers X-ray clarity on the Kremlin’s relationship with the powerful Italian Lega party, and a clear model for how exactly Russia uses commerce to mask naked exchanges of money and power.