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21st May 2022

Renzi seeks to end Putin's international isolation

  • Putin (r) praised Renzi and Mogherini (Photo: Palazzo Chigi)

Vladimir Putin should be enrolled in efforts to stabilise Libya, Syria, and Iraq – ending his Ukraine-related international isolation – provided that the Minsk ceasefire deal is fully respected, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi said on a trip to Moscow on Thursday (5 March).

Before meeting Italian businessmen active in Russia, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and president Putin, a black-tied Renzi headed to a bridge near the Kremlin to pay tribute to slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down last Friday.

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  • Renzi laid carnations at the place where Nemtsov was shot dead (Photo: Palazzo Chigi)

He left six carnations at the scene, bound by a ribbon with the colours of Italy’s national flag: green, white, and red.

Relations between Russia and the EU are at a historic low following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its support for anti-Ukrainian fighters in Donetsk and Lugansk. The two sides are locked in a sanctions war, and the EU has suspended bilateral summits with Putin, even if individual leaders from the bloc continue to meet him.

Renzi said his visit was taking place against "a difficult backdrop, linked to the European sanctions and the Russian counter-sanctions, which are obviously a problem for both sides."

Italy has suffered a record-length recession over the past three-and-a-half years, and EU-wide economic restrictions on trade with Russia, one of its primary export markets, have made it worse.

Suggesting a path for renewed diplomatic co-operation, Renzi said it was crucial to enlist Russia’s help in fighting Islamic State in the Middle East and North Africa, starting from Libya, a former Italian colony which has descended into chaos and which has become the main transit country for Europe-bound sea migrants and refugees.

“I think that it is key that Russia plays a decisive role on this field,” Renzi said.

"History has shown that without Russia it is a lot more complicated to find a balance [in international crises],” he added.

Expo 2015

In a symbolic gesture, Renzi also invited Putin to visit the Expo 2015 world fair to be hosted in Milan from May to October. The Russian president, who was already hosted in the northern Italian city in October for an Asia-Europe summit, is expected to visit again on 10 June, the Italian premier said.

The two leaders took no questions from journalists, but only read statements. Earlier, Renzi spoke to Russian state media, including the Itar Tass news agency.

In the interview, he stressed the need to “respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and restore the full control of the borders,” but also to guarantee “the autonomy” of the country’s eastern regions, which are home to many Russian speakers. Renzi suggested that Italy’s arrangement for its German-speaking region of South Tyrol could be a model.

“We will see in the next weeks and months, as the path of constitutional reforms in Ukraine advances, if and how our contribution to this end could be useful,” he said.

Putin said he agreed with Renzi that both sides in the Ukrainian conflict “must strictly comply with the agreements reached on 12 February, in Minsk," with the help of German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande.

"I am sure it will open possibilities for a comprehensive peace settlement and establishing direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk," the Kremlin boss noted.

"The situation there, as you know, is still difficult but at least combat actions have stopped, people are no longer dying, settlements are no longer destroyed," he added.

Putin also praised Italy as a “privileged partner” of Russia and said economic ties were “in a very good state” despite “losses related to well-known events” – a clear reference to the sanctions war.

He also found time to compliment EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who previously served as Renzi’s foreign minister, ahead of her planned visit to Moscow.

He hailed her as "a good representative of the Italian republic, and of Italian women."

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