Putin praises Salvini's 'welcoming attitude' to Russia ahead of Italy visit

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Putin praises Salvini's 'welcoming attitude' to Russia ahead of Italy visit
Vladimir Putin on his official visit to Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Rome on Thursday for a lightning visit including talks with Italy's populist government, which has called for an easing of sanctions despite Moscow's ongoing crisis with the West.


Rome's historic centre is on security lockdown for the visit with 50 streets blocked to traffic and Italian media reporting that mobile phone signals could be scrambled.

Putin will be driven around in his six-metre-long armoured limo by a chauffeur who has been practising negotiating his way around the Eternal City's narrow streets, but his talks with Italian leaders should be easier.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has often expressed admiration for Putin, and his coalition government advocates reviewing EU sanctions against Russia.

"Men like him [Putin] who act in the interest of their own citizens, there should be dozens in this country", Salvini said last year, shortly after being elected.


Putin returned the praise in an interview this week with Corriere della Sera, hailing Salvini's "welcoming attitude" to Russia.

"The League and its leader Salvini actively support the restoration of full cooperation between Italy and Russia. They are pushing for a rapid abolition of the anti-Russian sanctions introduced by the US and the EU," Putin said. 

"Salvini has a welcoming attitude towards our country, and is well informed on the situation in Russia." 

The Kremlin said Putin wanted to discuss Russia-EU relations, the situation in Syria, Ukraine and Libya, and Iran's nuclear programme with Italy's pro-Russian government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov told journalists in Moscow ahead of the visit that "Italy is one of our main partners in Europe".

"Economic questions are a priority. Bilateral trade has not returned to pre-2014 levels [of $54 billion]," Ushakov said.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has promised to pursue a "revision" of EU sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. 

READ ALSO: 'Russia should be back in the G8': Italy's prime minister agrees with Donald Trump

Before talks with Conte and President Sergio Mattarella, Putin had his third meeting with Pope Francis.

Their last encounter was in 2015 when the pope urged all parties to the conflict in Ukraine to make a "sincere effort" for peace. The meeting lasted an unusual 50 minutes. Only audiences with former US President Barack Obama and French President Emmanuel Macron have been longer.

Francis first met Putin in 2013, as the Roman Catholic Church sought to improve ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. Only in 2009 did the Vatican and Moscow re-establish full diplomatic ties, which had been severed during Soviet times.

Putin and Pope Francis on Thursday. Photo: Vatican Media/AFP

The pope and Putin planned to discuss "preserving Christian holy sites in Syria", the Kremlin said.

Salvini and fellow deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio will attend a dinner for Putin in the evening, after which Putin will meet his old friend, tycoon and former premier Silvio Berlusconi. 

"Silvio is a politician of global stature, a true leader who strongly advocates the interests of his country in the international arena," Putin told Corriere della Sera. "We are bound by a friendship stretching back many years."

READ ALSO: Berlusconi and Putin, an enduring love



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