Italian PM’s diplomatic adviser steps down over prank phone call fiasco

Meloni discussed issues such as the Ukraine war and migration with a Russian comedian posing as an African official.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has blamed her staff for a prank phone call from a Russian comedian in which she made stark comments about migration and the war in Ukraine [Thomas Coex/ AFP]

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said that her chief diplomatic adviser has resigned, after she was tricked by a prank phone call in which she discussed the war in Ukraine and migration.

Meloni said on Friday that Francesco Talo, who previously served as Italy’s ambassador to NATO and Israel, had stepped down over the fiasco.

“This matter was not handled well, we are all sorry, Ambassador [Francesco] Talo took responsibility for it,” Meloni said.

In a call in September, supposedly with a high-level official from the African Union, Meloni made stark comments about several topics, saying that Italy was not receiving adequate support to crack down on migration and that there was international “fatigue” over the war in Ukraine.

The prime minister’s office later confirmed that the caller was not, in fact, an African Union official, but a Russian comedian who managed to fool them.

Meloni blamed her staff for failing to adequately screen the caller after comments from the conversation were released online earlier this week. She said that she had “a doubt” about the identity of the caller but “no certainty”.

The opposition Democratic Party had asked Meloni to inform parliament about the incident, charging that it raised questions about national security.

The Italian leader also reiterated her country’s support for Ukraine on Friday, saying that comments about fatigue over the war are “nothing new”.

“We have taken a very clear [pro-Ukraine] position and perhaps this is also why [Russians] call us,” she told a news conference, adding that there was no evidence that the call was part of a propaganda campaign.

It is not the first time that Russian pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, known as Vovan and Lexus, have successfully fooled powerful leaders. Previous victims of their antics include former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Polish President Andrzej Duda. Even the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry was not spared.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies