Sunday

14th Aug 2022

Renzi to meet Putin on counter-terrorism

  • Renzi (r) went to Kiev before Moscow in a symbolic act (Photo: president.gov.ua)

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi will on Thursday (5 March) become the latest EU leader to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin, in an event described as “grotesque” by one Polish MEP.

Renzi’s trip to Moscow comes after a prolonged lull in fighting in east Ukraine.

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  • Renzi told US leader (r) Obama he would back more Russia sanctions if need be (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

But Nato estimates that some 12,000 Russian forces have massed in the region, amid expectations that Putin will, sooner or later, attack Mariupol, a city in south-east Ukraine, in order to create a land bridge to Crimea, which he annexed last year.

Renzi’s visit also comes amid grief and anger over the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov last weekend.

The prevailing theory is that he was killed not on Putin’s orders, but by nationalists trying to please the Russian leader.

The Renzi visit is to cover Ukraine, counter-terrorism, and bilateral economic ties.

The radical Islamist movement, Isis, has established a bridgehead in Libya, close to Italy’s southern coastline, and has pledged to launch attacks in Europe.

But Putin, on a recent visit to Cairo, promised to help Egypt, one of Isis’ principal enemies, to fight the group.

Meanwhile, Italy imports some 30 percent of its gas from Russia and used to export €11 billion of goods a year before EU sanctions and Russian counter-sanctions entered into life.

Aside from Putin, Renzi will also meet Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and a delegation of some 130 Italian businessmen.

The Italian leader requested that his press conferences do not include questions from media, the Italian news agency, AGI, reports.

He is the latest in a series of EU heads of state or government to reach out to Russia.

Cyprus’ Nicos Anastasiades was in Moscow last month. Hungary’s Viktor Orban welcomed Putin in Budapest also last month, while Greece’s Alexis Tsipras is expected to attend a WWII memorial in Moscow in May.

Russian diplomats are, according to EU sources, lobbying all four countries to veto a renewal or extension of economic sanctions.

But Renzi is being careful not to look like a weak link.

He plans to lay flowers at the spot where Nemtsov was shot.

He visited Kiev on Wednesday where he pledged to protect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”.

He also took part in a video conference with the US president, the French and German leaders, and the Polish EU Council chief earlier this week in which he promised to back extra sanctions if Rusia escalates the Ukraine conflict.

The Italian’s political hygiene failed to impress in some quarters, however.

The Polish centre-right MEP, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, vented eastern European sentiment on Twitter, saying on Wednesday the Renzi visit is “grotesque”.

On Libya and Isis, Saryusz-Wolski said it’s ironic to be “asking [a] state sponsor of terrorism for help to fight terrorism”.

Ukraine has designated Russia’s proxies in east Ukraine as terrorist entities, but the EU has so far declined to follow suit.

For his part, Alon Ben-Air, a scholar of international relations at New York University, told EUobserver the Isis threat in Libya is modest in nature.

“I don’t believe that Isis’ presence in Libya is a sign of strength. In fact, I believe it is the direct result of the losses it has sustained [in other areas] in the last couple of months”, he said.

“Creating another theatre is designed to distract the focus from Iraq and Syria and obscure its losses both in men and territory.”

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