ROME - Italy's new government will not cede to "blackmail" from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday, acknowledging that the country faced some of the toughest challenges since World War Two.
Striking a combative tone in her maiden speech to parliament, Meloni, Italy's first woman prime minister, said her nationalist, right-wing coalition would make its voice heard in Europe and did not need any oversight from foreign governments.
However, she stressed that it would continue the policy of former Prime Minister Mario Draghi in backing Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
"Giving in to Putin's blackmail on energy would not solve the problem, it would exacerbate it by opening the way to further demands and blackmail," Meloni said.
The head of the nationalist Brothers of Italy, Meloni swept to victory in an election last month as part of a coalition that included Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Matteo Salvini's anti-immigrant League.
She said her government would offer financial support for families and firms hit by the energy crisis, warning that the high cost of this meant her administration might have to delay some of its more costly election promises.
"The context in which the government will have to act is very complicated, perhaps the most difficult since World War Two," Meloni said, adding that the economy could sink into recession next year.
But she said that Italy remained "the most beautiful boat in the world" as it tried to steer through the current storms.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Giuseppe Fonte and Giselda Vagnoni; Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Crispian Balmer)