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UKRAINE

Italy and France back blocking Russia from Swift banking system

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, more EU nations on Saturday pledged support for a ban on Russia from a global payments network.

Italy and France back blocking Russia from Swift banking system
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Italian Premier Mario Draghi have both expressed support for banning Russia from the Swift banking system. (Photo by Domenico Stinellis / POOL / AFP)

EU leaders including France and Italy’s prime ministers are moving to exclude Russia from using the Swift banking network, in a bid to step up sanctions on the country.

The move would hit Russian trade as Swift permits rapid cross-border payments and is the main means for financing international business.

Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi spoke to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday to reiterate that “Italy fully supports and will continue to support the European Union’s line on sanctions against Russia, including those regarding Swift,” the government confirmed in a statement.

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

Draghi added that Italy “will provide Ukraine with assistance to defend itself”.

Ukraine’s president welcomed the phone call with Italy’s political leader, stating that it marked a a “beginning” between Ukraine and Italy.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba wrote in a tweet that the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also showed support for piling financial pressure on Russia by banning it from the Swift financial system.

READ ALSO: How life in France could be impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine

From their phone call, he claimed that France says it’s “ready to supply weapons and military equipment to help Ukraine defend itself”.

The fresh support for this sanction marks a U-turn for some EU leaders as Italy, Germany and other European nations were heavily criticised on Thursday for their reservations about cutting Russia off from the Swift international payments system.

Former European Council President Donald Tusk hit back on Friday, saying some EU governments had “disgraced themselves” by blocking “tough decisions”.

READ ALSO: Is Italy pushing to exclude luxury goods sales to Russia from EU sanctions?

Germany has expressed a lukewarm response to banning Russia from Swift payments, by suggesting it is open to the idea but needs to calculate the economic impact first, Finance Minister Christian Lindner said on Friday.

Russia launched a full-scale attack against Ukraine on Thursday, to which the EU has since responded by announcing various sanctions against Russia.

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ENERGY

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.

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