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Amid Ukraine Tensions Putin Meets With Italian Business Leaders

February 1st, 2022 15:37

UK media report­ed last week that Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin held a video meet­ing with senior Ital­ian busi­ness lead­ers to expand ties between Italy and Rus­sia amid ris­ing ten­sions over a pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion with Ukraine. Accord­ing to a Finan­cial Times report:

Jan­u­ary 25, 2022   The top exec­u­tives of some of Italy’s largest com­pa­nies includ­ing Pirelli, Gen­er­ali and Uni­Cred­it are due to hold a video meet­ing with Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to dis­cuss eco­nom­ic ties, even as Europe and the US threat­en to impose pun­ish­ing sanc­tions on Rus­sia if it invades Ukraine.  The meet­ing on Wednes­day, which the Krem­lin said would cov­er “the poten­tial for fur­ther expand­ing ties between the two coun­tries’ busi­ness­men”, comes despite ris­ing ten­sions over a pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion in Ukraine.  It also comes as transat­lantic allies have laboured to agree a uni­fied approach over the brew­ing cri­sis in Ukraine fol­low­ing mis­steps that exposed sharp dif­fer­ences over how to respond to Putin.  The date of the event — organ­ised by the Italy-Rus­sia cham­ber of com­merce and the Ita­lo-Russ­ian busi­ness com­mit­tee — was agreed in Novem­ber with the knowl­edge of Italy’s for­eign min­istry.  An Ital­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cial said the event was “a pri­vate ini­tia­tive which does not envis­age the par­tic­i­pa­tion of any per­son­al­i­ties linked to pub­lic insti­tu­tions”. Organ­is­ers said the event would go ahead as a way to main­tain dia­logue regard­less of geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions. […]   Par­tic­i­pants in Wednesday’s meet­ing are due to include Provera as well as Francesco Starace, chief exec­u­tive of Enel; Andrea Orcel, chief exec­u­tive of bank­ing group Uni­Cred­it; and Anto­nio Fal­li­co, the Rus­sia chair of Inte­sa San­pao­lo, accord­ing to a list seen by the Finan­cial Times

Read the rest here.

The report notes that the Ita­lo-Russ­ian busi­ness com­mit­tee, set up with the sup­port of Moscow and Rome, is co-led by Mar­co Tronchet­ti Provera, chief exec­u­tive of tire man­u­fac­tur­er Pirelli, and Dmit­ry Konov, head of petro­chem­i­cals pro­duc­er Sibur. Inter­na­tion­al media report­ed lat­er that Putin’s meet­ing with top Ital­ian com­pa­nies went ahead despite a call from Rome for busi­ness exec­u­tives not to attend. The reports also indi­cate that the two-and-a-half-hour meet­ing with top man­agers from 16 com­pa­nies had last­ed longer than expect­ed and had been friend­ly and con­struc­tive. Accord­ing to an ana­lyst quot­ed in the Finan­cial Times report, Rus­sia sees Italy as “a weak link in the EU that he can influ­ence so that they push to weak­en Euro­pean sanc­tions pol­i­cy if there’s a seri­ous mil­i­tary esca­la­tion in Ukraine.” Accord­ing to data from Italy’s for­eign affairs min­istry, in 2021, Rus­sia was Italy’s 14th biggest export des­ti­na­tion. Yet, Italy has become the sec­ond-largest buy­er of Russ­ian nat­ur­al gas in the Euro­pean Union, pro­vid­ing more than one-third of its domes­tic demand.

Elite ‘friend­ship groups’ and busi­ness lob­bies have been an impor­tant tool for the Krem­lin to exert influ­ence and weak­en Europe’s Rus­sia pol­i­cy. In Novem­ber, the Euro­pean Par­lia­men­t’s com­mit­tee against for­eign inter­fer­ence pub­lished a report which said: “eco­nom­ic lob­by­ing strate­gies can be com­bined with for­eign inter­fer­ence goals.” The report also iden­ti­fied for­mer prime min­is­ters from Ger­many, Fin­land, and France and a for­mer for­eign min­is­ter from Aus­tria as Russ­ian influ­ence agents.