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29th Nov 2021

Putin to stress business ties on Italy trip

  • Italian PM Matteo Renzi (l) and Russian president Vladimir Putin (r) at the Kremlin in March (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Russian president Vladimir Putin will be in Italy on Wednesday (10 June) on a business-oriented trip which many consider an attempt to woo Italy away from the EU sanctions policy.

Putin will celebrate Russia Day - the country's national holiday - at the Universal Expo in Milan with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

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He will then head to Rome to meet Italian president Sergio Mattarella, before going to the Vatican to see Pope Francis.

Putin may also spend the evening with his old friend, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

It will be the second time this year Putin and Renzi meet.

In March, the Italian PM was the first EU leader to go to Moscow after the bloc imposed sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.

Italy, which has close business ties with Russia, especially in the energy sector, is often seen as a soft spot in Putin's strategy to divide the EU.

 Italy was one of the countries initially opposed to EU sanctions last year and Renzi reportedly criticised sanctions in private.

But Rome has so far followed the EU line that the Minsk agreement must be implemented before sanctions can be eased.

EU leaders at their traditional June summit later this month are due to decide whether to maintain the sanctions for a further six months.

Putin, for his part, is expected to stress Italy's interest in good business relations with his country.

In an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper last weekend, Putin spoke of a "a special relationship" between Russia and Italy and said he hoped his visit would help "go further in expanding our cooperation as long as our Italian partners are willing to do the same".

"In the last couple of years, trade between our countries increased eleven fold, from what I believe was $4.2 billion to over $48 billion, nearly $49 billion," Putin said, adding that "400 Italian companies are operating in Russia".

The Russian president also underlined the two countries' cooperation in the energy sector and the space and aircraft industries, as well as the fact that Russian tourists spent "over €1 billion last year" in Italy.

The heads of Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI met in Milan on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's Renzi-Putin meeting.

They discussed Gazprom's plan for the Turkish Stream and Blue Stream pipelines across the Black Sea. 

The Italian energy giant had a 20 percent stake in the South Stream project until it was ditched by Putin in December and replaced by Turkish Stream.

"I don't think that from a commercial point of view we can do without Russia for the next five or six years," ENI chief Claudio Descalzi said on Tuesday.

Foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni also underlined the ties between the two countries.

Italy's "special relationship" with Russia has "a long history", he told Corriere della Sera.

Gentiloni said Italy was "an influential voice that besides holding the point on Ukraine, insists in keeping open a channel of dialogue with Moscow".

But he said did "not believe that Russia is really that interested in Italy breaking the front with its allies because it knows that it is not going to happen."

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