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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Italian energy company to start paying for Russian gas in rubles

Italian energy company Eni confirmed it is opening accounts in rubles with Gazprombank to pay for gas supplies, complying with Moscow's demands.

Italian energy company to start paying for Russian gas in rubles

Eni said in a statement on Tuesday it was opening accounts in rubles and euros with Gazprom Bank “on a precautionary basis” as “deadlines for the payment of gas supplies are scheduled for the next few days”.

It was not immediately clear whether the move would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.

READ ALSO: Italy will ‘soon’ stop buying gas from Russia, says minister

Vladimir Putin demanded at the end of March that payment be made in rubles or the gas supply to European countries would be cut off, as he hit back at sanctions placed on Russia by EU countries following its invasion of Ukraine.
Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi said at the time that his company would not comply with the demands, saying “Eni doesn’t have rubles” and “the contracts say fuel payments should be made in euros”.
But many European companies and their lawyers have since been looking at ways to meet the demand without breaching sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for the war in Ukraine, reports Bloomberg.
EU officials had said opening a ruble account would breach sanctions. But its latest guidelines, to be published this week, are expected to stop short of banning bank accounts in rubles and  therefore allow companies to keep buying Russian gas, Bloomberg reports.
Like other European countries, Italy says it is working to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy imports in the wake of the Ukraine war.

But the Italian government has so far resisted calls to boycott Russian oil and gas.

Italy is highly dependent on Russian gas, importing 95 percent of the gas it consumes, of which around 40 percent comes from Russia.