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UKRAINE

‘No respect’: Polish mayor confronts Italy’s Salvini over Putin support

Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini, known for his admiration of Russia's Vladimir Putin, had a frosty reception on a trip to Poland amid the invasion of Ukraine.

'No respect': Polish mayor confronts Italy’s Salvini over Putin support
Przemysl's mayor Wojciech Bakun (L) confronted Italian League leader Matteo Salvini (R) during his visit to Poland on March 8th over his admiration and support for the Russian president in recent years. Photo by STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

A Polish mayor mocked Matteo Salvini on Tuesday for his support of Russia’s Vladimir Putin during a visit by the Italian far-right leader to meet Ukrainian refugees, a video shared by Italian media showed.

The leader of the League party, Salvini has been photographed on more than one occasion wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s image, and for years has written pro-Putin messages on his social media accounts.

On Tuesday, Wojciech Bakun, the mayor of the southeastern Polish city of Przemysl near the Ukrainian border, held a press conference in front of the train station in which he thanked Italian organisations for their support of Ukrainian refugees.

Bakun then said he had a “personal remark” for Salvini, who was standing at his side, according to a video widely published in Italian media.

“I have a gift for you. We’d like to go with you to the border and to a refugee welcome centre to see what your friend Putin has done, what the person whom you describe as your friend, has done to these people, who are crossing the border to the tune of 50,000 per day,” he said in Polish.

He pulled out a T-shirt printed with a black-and-white image of Putin on the front and the words “Army of Putin” underneath – a copy of a T-shirt Salvini was photographed wearing in 2014 in Moscow’s Red Square.

“No respect for you, thank you,” Bakun said in English, addressing Salvini.

The League leader sought to interrupt, saying “Sorry, sorry… we are helping refugees” in English before walking away.

A member of the crowd shouted after him in English, “You have a chance to condemn Putin right now”, while another shouted out in Italian “Clown, buffoon!” and “Go home!”

Like many other European far-right leaders, Salvini has come under pressure since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine for his attitude towards Putin.

In 2015, after Italian President Sergio Mattarella argued for a common European response to migrants arriving in the Mediterranean, Salvini wrote on social media that “I’d give up two Mattarella for half a Putin”.

While interior minister in 2019, Salvini tightened laws on immigration and obtaining Italian citizenship, and blocked several charity ships carrying migrants and refugees from docking at Italian ports.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, however, Salvini has called on Italians to open their doors to refugees.

“Salvini intends to work to help the arrival and welcome in Italy of children, women and families fleeing the war,” the League said of Salvini’s trip to Poland.

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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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