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UKRAINE

Italian foreign minister to visit Kyiv and Moscow for crisis talks

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will fly to Kyiv on Tuesday ahead of a visit to Moscow for talks aimed at averting a Russian invasion, ministry sources said Monday.

Italian foreign minister to visit Kyiv and Moscow for crisis talks
Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s office confirmed Di Maio was expected on Wednesday, AFP reports.

“We are determined to pass clear, unified, firm messages to Moscow… that discourage any aggression or escalation,” Di Maio said at a meeting with Qatar’s foreign minister earlier on Monday.

Italy is working “in close coordination with our European partners and allies, NATO and OSCE”, he said, on stopping a crisis considered the worst threat to the continent’s security since the Cold War.

Di Maio on Saturday issued a statement urging “all Italian citizens present in Ukraine to return home by commercial means and to postpone all trips” to the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded a rollback of Western influence in eastern Europe and a ban on Ukraine joining NATO.

The United States has warned that Russia’s forces are poised to attack Ukraine, and the western allies have prepared what they warn would be a crippling package of economic sanctions in response.

Putin recently stressed the importance of ties between Russia’s energy industry and Italian businesses in an address to Italian business leaders.

“I would like to underscore that we consider Italy as one of the leading economic partners,” Putin said, according to Reuters, noting that Italian energy companies were benefiting from long-term supply deals with Gazprom.

The online meeting with top Italian companies, including state-controlled energy firm Enel, went ahead despite a call from the Italian government for business executives not to attend amid rising tensions with Ukraine.

Energy is one of the main issues on the agenda for Europe as surging natural gas prices have inflated energy bills for businesses and households.

Russia supplies the European Union with around a third of its gas, with Italy particularly reliant on gas supplies.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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