Ukraine: Italy urges other countries to move quickly on seizing Russian assets

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said other countries should follow Italy's lead after it seized luxury villas and superyachts owned by Russian oligarchs placed on the EU's sanctions list.

Ukraine: Italy urges other countries to move quickly on seizing Russian assets
The yacht ‘Lena’, belonging to Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, pictured in the port of Sanremo where it was seized by Italian police on Friday. Photo: Andrea BERNARDI / AFP

“I’d really like to see similar measures taken by all of our countries,” Draghi said in English during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ahead of talks in Brussels.

“Now we must all be rapid in the implementation of this,” he said, without specifying which countries he thought could do more.

READ ALSO: Russian invasion of Ukraine: What has Italy’s response been so far?

Italian police have so far seized villas and yachts worth 143 million euros ($156 million) from five Russian oligarchs placed on sanctions lists following Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, the Italian government said on Saturday.

The luxury properties are located in Lake Como, Tuscany, and the island of Sardinia, while two superyachts were seized at their moorings in northern Italian ports.

These were the ‘Lady M’ yacht belonging to steel magnate Alexey Alexandrovits Mordaschov, located in Imperia, and Gennady Timchenko’s ‘Lena’ , moored in Sanremo.

Mordashov and Timchenko are among the ultra-wealthy, influential Russians blacklisted by Brussels for their perceived closeness to the Kremlin.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24th, the EU has moved to freeze the assets of connected oligarchs and bar them from entering the bloc.

Italy began to apply the EU sanctions to Russian oligarchs after last week closing Italian airspace to Russian flights and sending a payment of 110 million euros to Ukraine in a show of “solidarity”.

Italy last week also seized dozens of artworks and a helicopter belonging to Italian citizen Lanfranco Cirillo, an architect thought to have designed ‘Putin’s Palace’ on the Black Sea.

Paintings by Picasso, Cezanne, Mirò and Chagall are reportedly among the 143 artworks confiscated by the authorities.

Prosecutors based in the town of Brescia are investigating 44 Russian oligarchs, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

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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.