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UKRAINE

Italian PM warns EU ‘preparing sanctions’ over Putin’s rebel move

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Tuesday attacked Russia's recognition of two Ukraine rebel republics and warned that sanctions by the EU were underway.

Italian PM warns EU 'preparing sanctions' over Putin’s rebel move
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) at a meeting of the European Council on Ukraine and Russia on February 17th, 2022. Photo: Geert Vanden WIJNGAERT / POOL / AFP

“This is an unacceptable violation of Ukraine’s democratic sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Draghi as he addressed the Council of State, which oversees administration in Italy.

“I am in constant contact with allies to find a peaceful solution to the crisis and avoid a war in the heart of Europe,” he said. 

READ ALSO: German Chancellor says Putin’s rebel move ‘will not go unanswered’

“The path of dialogue remains essential, but we are already defining within the European Union measures and sanctions against Russia.”

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two rebel Ukrainian regions and signed decrees ordering Russian “peacekeepers” to support their claims.

With troops having allegedly crossed the border into Ukraine, there are fears that Putin is paving the way for a wider invasion. 

Western leaders have placed initial sanctions on Russia following the breach.

Unlike most of its Western neighbours, Italy has historically relatively friendly ties with Putin, backed by strong, long-standing investments by Italian corporations in Russia.

Putin recently stressed the importance of energy industry ties between Russia and Italy, which is one of the European countries most reliant on imports of natural gas.

But since becoming prime minister in February 2021, Draghi has stressed Italy’s commitments to the EU and NATO.

The leaders of France, Germany and the United States on Monday condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognise rebel-held areas in east Ukraine as independent, calling it a “clear breach” of the Minsk peace agreements.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden agreed that “this step will not go unanswered”.

The three Western allies also vowed not to let up in their commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

Praising the restraint shown by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the latest developments, they added that they will “do everything in their powers to prevent a further escalation of the situation”.

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ENERGY

How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy's government has repeatedly said it plans to end its dependence on Russia for gas supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. But as the timeline keeps changing, when and how could this happen?

How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian gas, but has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as part of an effort to end this reliance in the coming years.

But it remains unclear whether Italy can really end its dependence on Russia for its gas supply – or when this might be feasible.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s Algerian gas deal mean for energy supplies?

The government has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including with a recent deal to boost supplies from Algeria.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week the country could be independent of Russian gas by the second half of 2024 – the latest in a series of changing estimates.

“Government estimates indicate that we can make ourselves independent from Russian gas in the second half of 2024,” Draghi told the Senate, while adding that the “first effects” of this plan would be felt by the end of this year.

He said his government was also seeking to boost its production of renewable energy, including by “destroying bureaucratic barriers” to investment, saying it was the “only way” to free Italy from having to import fossil fuels.

Explained: Why and how Italy will pay for Russian gas in rubles

In April, Italy‘s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani estimated the country would no longer need Russian gas within 18 months, following an earlier prediction that it could take until 2025.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest users and importers of natural gas, importing 90 percent of its gas supply with 45 percent of that coming from Russia – up from 27 percent ten years ago.

Italy now imports 29 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year, which Cingolani said in March “must be replaced” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Analysts have said there are “a lot of questions” about how helpful Italy’s gas deal with Algeria will be.

Despite its vast natural gas reserves, Algeria is already exporting at close to full capacity.

Draghi repeated his strong support for EU sanctions on Moscow last week, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil, although this is currently being blocked by Hungary.

“We must continue to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions, because we must bring Moscow to the negotiating table,” he said.

But for now, Italian energy giant Eni says it plans to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles, meeting a demand from Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear whether the plan 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.

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