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UKRAINE

Italy ‘ready to take further measures’ against Russia, Draghi says

In a rousing speech delivered on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi reaffirmed Italy's support for Ukraine and said his country "does not intend to look the other way".

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi delivers a speech on the Ukraine situation in Rome's Palazzo Chigi on February 24, 2022, after Russia's ground forces invaded Ukraine from several directions.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi delivers a speech on the Ukraine situation in Rome's Palazzo Chigi on February 24, 2022, after Russia's ground forces invaded Ukraine from several directions. Photo by Remo Casilli / POOL / AFP

Addressing parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Draghi said: “Italy stands ready to take further restrictive measures, should these be necessary.”

“In particular, I have proposed to take further targeted measures against oligarchs. The idea is to create an international public register of those with assets of more than 10 million euros,” he added.

Italy has already contributed financially towards with the emergency, donating €110 million in financial aid to Kyiv.

Draghi’s speech came after the Italian government on Monday passed an emergency decree containing urgent measures in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The government on Monday voted in favour of providing military equipment and materials to Ukraine to assist in its defence against Russia’s invasion.

Cabinet ministers sanctioned “the transfer of military means, material and equipment to the governmental authorities of Ukraine”, a spokesman for Draghi’s office said.

Other measures contained in the decree include the extension of the current state of emergency over the situation in Ukraine, which enables Italy’s parliament to rapidly pass decrees such as this one, until December 31st, 2022; and provisions allowing Italy to revert to coal-based energy sources in the event of gas shortages. 
 
Monday’s decree also reportedly authorises the expansion of reception centres by 13,000 spaces to accommodate the initial anticipated influx of Ukrainian refugees, as well as the establishment of a €500,000 fund to finance scholarships for Ukrainian students, researchers and teachers to attend Italian universities and training institutes.
 
 
The state of emergency relating to foreign intervention does not affect the Covid-19-related state of emergency, which is still due to end on March 31st.

Draghi also spoke of the impending refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians have already fled their homeland and seek protection in neighbouring countries.

“We are working to open special corridors for orphaned children, to allow them to safely reach our country as quickly as possible,” he confirmed.

The prime minister reiterated his country’s stance on providing military assistance and equipment, while reassuring the Italian public that “the government is working non-stop to counter the possible repercussions for our country”.

At the same time, Draghi did not shy away from underscoring Italy’s intention to play an active role in the defence of Ukraine, adding, “Italy does not intend to look the other way.”

The prime minister also said the international community should “intensify further the pressure on Russia’s central bank”.

The European Union on Monday added top Kremlin-linked oligarchs and President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman to its sanctions blacklist.

More sweeping measures, including prohibiting transactions with Russia’s central bank, have helped plunge the Russian economy into turmoil.

The BIS, dubbed the central bank for central banks, acts as a neutral space where central bankers can meet and discuss monetary policy issues.

On Monday, BIS spokeswoman Jill Forden said it would follow sanctions and not be an avenue for sanctions “to be circumvented”.

Draghi hailed the EU’s “prompt, firm, rapid, strong and above all united” response to the conflict.

“Perhaps Putin saw us as impotent, saw us as divided, as drunk on our own wealth. He was wrong,” the premier said.

“We have been and we will be ready to react, to fight back… to defend our values.”

Draghi repeated his government’s advice that Italians in Kyiv should leave and exercise “maximum caution”.

He said Italian embassy staff had moved to the ambassador’s residence together with a group of Italians, including children.

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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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