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.

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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.