Italy seizes another Russian oligarch’s yacht over Ukraine

Italian authorities said Saturday they had "frozen" a 530-million-euro ($580-million) yacht linked to Russian oligarch Andrei Melnichenko, who has been sanctioned by the EU over the Ukraine war.

Sailing yacht 'A' in Trieste, Italy
This photograph taken on March 10th, 2022, shows a sailing yacht “A” owned by Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko in Trieste, Italy. (Photo by Jure Makovec / AFP)

The “SY A”, located in the northeast port of Trieste, is said to be the largest private sailing-assisted motor yacht in the world.

Italy’s financial crimes police said it had been found to be “indirectly attributable, through a company based in Bermuda, to Andrei Melnichenko”.

The multi-billionaire coal-and-fertiliser magnate was named earlier this week on a European Union blacklist, subject to an assets freeze and visa ban.

Earlier this month, Italy seized Russian oligarch assets worth around 140 million euros, including the 65-million-euro “Lady M Yacht” belonging to metals magnate Alexei Mordashov.

Yachts, symbols of the massive wealth accrued by Russia’s elite, are among their overseas assets being targeted by Western sanctions.

The EU sanctions target more than 500 Russian individuals or entities whose assets are to be traced and frozen.

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

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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.