Italy closes airspace to Russian planes and sends €110 million to Ukraine

Italy on Sunday closed its airspace to Russian aircraft and announced it would send €110 million to Ukraine in a show of solidarity with the invaded country.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday announced that Italy would immediately send €110 million to the Ukrainian government.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday announced that Italy would immediately send €110 million to the Ukrainian government. Photo by SHAMIL ZHUMATOV / POOL / AFP.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio announced the news of the foreign aid package in a tweet published on Sunday morning.

“I’ve informed my colleague @DmytroKuleba that I’ve just signed the resolution that provides for the immediate disbursement of 110 million euros to the government of Kyiv, as a concrete expression of Italy’s solidarity and support for a people with whom we cultivate a fraternal relationship,” the post reads.

At 3pm on Sunday, Italy joined countries including Canada, France, the UK, Germany and Spain in closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an EU-wide ban on all Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft.

On Monday morning the Italian foreign ministry urged its citizens to leave Russia by any commercial means available.

 “In view of this measure and possible further restrictions in the next few hours, it is strongly recommended that compatriots present in the country on a temporary basis… make timely arrangements to return to Italy,” the foreign ministry said.

“Tourists, students, business travellers and the like” should return “by the commercial means still available”.

Italy also recommended that “all travel to the Russian Federation be postponed”.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Sunday reiterated Italy’s support for EU sanctions against Russia, which also entail excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT global payments system.

“Italy gives its full backing to the measures against the Russian Federation presented today by the European Commission,” Draghi said in a statement published by his office.

READ ALSO: Swift banking: How would Italy’s ban sanction Russia?

In the same statement, the prime minister urged the European Union to react with the “utmost determination” to Russia’s “barbaric” aggression, calling Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine a “threat to the whole of Europe”.

On Friday, Italy’s parliament declared a three-month state of emergency for foreign intervention over the war in Ukraine and issued a decree authorising urgent measures to be taken in response to the invasion, Italian news outlets reported.

The ‘Ukraine decree’ – the text of which has yet to be published – primarily provides for the allocation of funds and resources to reinforce Europe’s defences and protect Italians abroad.

These include the authorisation of €174.4 million to upgrade NATO’s defence systems and €11 million to support Italy’s foreign embassies, reports the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

€1 million of the €11 million will finance the dispatch of ten carabinieri to guard the country’s most exposed offices and staff, according to the same source.

The Repubblica news daily reports that the decree also provides for the deployment of Italian soldiers to Latvia, Romania and the Black Sea; and authorises the transfer of non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine. 

The declaration of a state of emergency, or stato di emergenza, creates the conditions that allow Italy’s parliament to quickly pass emergency laws such as this one.

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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.