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UKRAINE

Is Italy really pushing to exclude luxury goods sales to Russia from EU sanctions?

As Europe plans further sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, reports claim Italy is among the countries asking for exemptions and blocking some tougher measures. But is this true?

Is Italy really pushing to exclude luxury goods sales to Russia from EU sanctions?
Italy's prime minister Mario Draghi has reportedly carved out luxury goods from EU sanctions against Russia. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

EU countries are on Friday planning a third round of economic sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has repeatedly said that Italy is “fully aligned” with its European partners on the issue, pledging a “very tough package of sanctions against Russia” in a speech to the national parliament on Friday.

EXPLAINED: How Italy could be impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

But Italy may have also been pushing to keep its lucrative trade in luxury goods out of the discussions – at least according to some reports in the UK and US media.

Belgian officials also reportedly wanted an exception for the diamond trade on any list of sanctions.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper on Friday cited unnamed sources in Brussels as saying Draghi had “carved out” an exclusion for Italian luxury goods from the package.

The Italian government appeared to refute the reports hours later, with a tweet from the Prime Minister’s office in English saying: “Italy has made no requests for carve-outs on sanctions. Italy’s position is fully aligned with the rest of the EU.”

Italy and other European nations were heavily criticised on Thursday for blocking some of the toughest sanctions including a proposal to cut Russia off from the SWIFT international payments system.

Former European Council President Donald Tusk hit out at Italy, Germany, and Hungary on Friday, saying some EU governments had “disgraced themselves” by blocking “tough decisions”.

EU leaders reportedly struggled to unite due to fears about how the sanctions would impact their own economies, with many reliant on Russian gas exports.

This is particularly true for Germany and Italy, the two European countries who import the most Russian gas.

Italy has historically had a closer relationship with Russia than many other European countries, with business relationships reaching beyond energy supply.

OPINION: This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

There are around 300 Italian companies doing business with Moscow, reports Italy’s Sky TG24 news.

Russia is a major market for Italian luxury fashion  goods, with exports of Italian brands including Moncler, Brunello Cucinelli, Ferragamo and Tod’s worth €1.3 billion in the first 11 months of 2021 alone, according to data from the Italian Trade and Investment Energy Agency.

In the same timeframe, the total trade between Russia and Italy amounted to about €20 billion.

Member comments

  1. Not intelligent! Others will “sanction” Italy’s luxury brands in protest. Net loss to Italy which is otherwise a decent country.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

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

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi was forced to clarify on Friday remarks about long-time friend Vladimir Putin after saying the Russian leader was "pushed" into a "special operation".

Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin's invasion of Ukraine

The sympathetic remarks caused outrage and concern as the 85-year-old former prime minister’s party is expected to return to power following Italian general elections on Sunday as a partner in a government led by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy.

“Putin has fallen into a truly difficult and dramatic situation,” Berlusconi told Rai television late on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote

Berlusconi, who is known for his longstanding friendship with Russia’s president, described Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation”.

He said Putin was “pushed” into it by “the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers”

Russian troops were supposed to enter Kyiv and “replace the Zelensky government with decent people,” Berlusoni added.

“Instead they found an unexpected resistance which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West.”

His comments sparked an outcry in Italy, prompting the former premier to insist he was misunderstood and had just been reporting what others had said.

READ ALSO: Italy’s newspapers warn of Russian ‘interference’ in election

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable,” he said in a statement on Friday, offering his support for the EU and NATO.

Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, called his comments “scandalous”.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer on Friday said the EC had no comment on Berlusconi’s statement.

The other member of his alliance with Meloni, League leader Matteo Salvini, has often expressed admiration for the Russian president and recently criticised EU sanctions.

Meloni insists that she strongly supports the policy of the outgoing Italian government in sending weapons to Ukraine and backing Western sanctions against Russia.

However, Meloni is known for changing her political stance and, like Berlusconi and Salvini, in 2014 said that she supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

His statement sparked fears that the new government would change Italy’s stance on Russia, returning to friendly relations with Moscow – as had long been the case under a series of governments before Mario Draghi became PM in 2021.

READ ALSO: Berlusconi’s messy break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

Draghi is strongly in favour of NATO, the EU, and sanctions over Ukraine, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But some of Italy’s major parties – Forza Italia, the League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – have long pursued a special relationship with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and has long maintained close business and political ties with Russia.

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