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UKRAINE

IN PICTURES: Italians protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Crowds of demonstrators took to the streets across Italy on Saturday to denounce Russia's assault on its neighbour.

IN PICTURES: Italians protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Protesters hold flags and placards during a demonstration, called by associations Italian Peace and Disarmament Network, trade unions Cgil, Cisl, Uil and other organisations to protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at Piazza Santi Apostoli in central Rome, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Thousands of people marched in torchlit processions and peaceful protests in various Italian cities this weekend to join the chorus of condemnation and urge an end to the bloodshed.

More than 1,000 demonstrators answered the call of trade unions and NGOs in central Rome, huddling around a podium bearing the words “Against War” and flying rainbow flags of peace.

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

Crowds walked together bearing banners and messages of support for Ukraine to the Colosseum, one of the Italian capital’s major landmarks, on Friday evening.

A young girl holds a rainbow flag in front of a banner reading “Stop the war on children” during a demonstration, called by associations Italian Peace and Disarmament Network, trade unions Cgil, Cisl, Uil and other organisations to protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at Piazza Santi Apostoli in central Rome, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Putin was the march’s main target as banners caricatured him as an assassin with bloodstained hands and compared him to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler with the words: “Can you recognise when history repeats itself?”

Protesters attend a demonstration in support of Ukraine in front of the Russia’s embassy in Rome on February 24, 2022. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)
 

“We’ve always been close to the Ukrainian people,” Maria Sergi, a 40-year-old Russian-born Italian, told AFP. “Our feeling of powerlessness is huge.”

Thousands more gathered to rally in Milan, with protestors calling on international governments to put an end to Putin’s actions.

Packed streets of Milan – the demonstration against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

A protester holds a placard during a rally against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Milan, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

While others showed their solidarity for Ukraine by waving the country’s flag outside the northern city’s cathedral.

A person waves the Ukrainian flag during a demonstration against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in the northern city of Milan, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)
 
 
Moscow’s invasion, which began on Thursday, has sparked global outcry and prompted punishing sanctions from the West, including some against Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
 
Russia’s ground forces invaded Ukraine from several directions, encircling the country within hours of Putin announcing his decision to launch an assault. Heavy Russian tanks and other equipment crossed the frontier in a string of northern regions as well as from the Kremlin-annexed peninsula of Crimea in the south.
 
They were also advancing into the Western-backed government’s territory along the eastern front, where a separatist insurgency has claimed more than 14,000 lives since 2014.
 
Some cities in Italy gathered immediately in response, such as the thousands who walked through the streets of Bologna, in the north of Italy, to condemn Russia’s attack. Demonstrations began on Thursday and have continued throughout the weekend.
 
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,” the government confirmed in a statement.
 
Such sanctions include banning Russia from Swift, an international payments system that would hit Russia’s trade hard.
 
 
Exclusion from Swift is one of the most disruptive sanctions the West has deployed against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
 
Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed his “deep pain for the tragic events” resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during a call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyiv’s embassy to the Vatican said Saturday.

Francis made a rare intervention on Friday when he tweeted in several languages, including Russian, to denounce all war as a “shameful capitulation”.

 
“Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity,” he said, quoting his encyclical on peace published in 2020.

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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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