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Italy mulls delivery of another SAMP/T system to Ukraine, says source

In World
May 10, 2024

ROME — Italy is considering sending a second SAMP/T air defense battery to Ukraine following pressure from allies to beef up arms deliveries to the war-torn country, a source has told Defense News.

“The Defence Ministry is keen, but a decision must be made by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. It is on her desk and the choice could be made in a week or two,” according to the political source with knowledge of the deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

The battery Italy would send is based in Kuwait and is one of five now operated by Italy, after one was sent to Ukraine last year.

The Italian government has been cautious about sending a second battery given the few it possesses, but Ukraine has requested the supply of such weapons to defend itself against Russian missile attacks.

“There has been enormous political pressure on Italy to donate a second battery, but it is a tough decision because it leaves Italy with little redundancy,” said Alessandro Marrone, a defense expert at the Rome-based think tank IAI.

The government recently stationed one battery in Slovakia as part of a NATO program, and another is due to be set up in June in southern Italy to protect a G7 summit.

Entering service with the Italian Army in 2013, the SAMP/T is a truck-based, tactical anti-missile system designed to defend against cruise and tactical ballistic missiles as well as piloted aircraft and drones.

The Italian Parliament is due to vote for another package of arms to be sent to Ukraine, having already reportedly sent Stinger missiles and PzH 2000 howitzers. And comments made last month by Britain’s defense minister about Italy sending Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine made headlines in Italy.

But as with previous consignments, the government will likely not reveal to the public nor members of Parliament the exact list of weapons.

The prime minister has strongly backed Ukraine’s military campaign to oust Russian forces from its territory, but the government’s reticence to list dispatched weapons follows criticism from voters and political parties, including the opposition Five Star Party and Meloni’s own coalition ally, the League.

“It is outrageous that Parliament knows nothing, that only we keep this secret in Europe,” said Francesco Silvestri, a Five Star member of parliament.

During a meeting in Rome this week with Meloni, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg thanked Italy for sending the first SAMP/T battery to Ukraine last year. He also reportedly encouraged Italy to increase its defense spending. Italy has in recent years boosted spending, albeit reaching 1.38% of gross domestic product, which falls below the 2% goal set by the alliance for all members.

After his meeting with Meloni, Stoltenberg told Italian daily La Repubblica that “Italy has the ambition to grow and get in line with the others.”

Marrone noted that in 2022, Parliament voted to reach the 2% mark by 2028, “but the government is not increasing defense spending enough to do it.”

During her meeting with Stoltenberg, Meloni asked for NATO to focus on helping Italy increase security along its southern flank, meaning the North African coast facing it across the Mediterranean Sea.

Earlier this week, Meloni visited Libya, where she asked Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the strongman running the eastern part of the country, to reduce the number of Russian military personnel there. Russia is currently using eastern Libya as a staging post to reinforce its growing presence in Africa, while Hifter relies on Moscow to strengthen his hand against a rival government in western Libya.

Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs think tank, said it’s unlikely Hifter will take advice from Meloni.

“Hifter needs the Russians; their presence is central to the balance of power in Libya and to his deterrence against challengers. Meloni has nothing to offer that could remotely replace what Hifter gets from Russia, nor does she have any leverage that could prompt him to rid himself of the Russian presence,” Lacher said.

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