Italy rejects Russian demand for gas payment in rubles

Paying for Russian gas in rubles would be unacceptable, G7 countries reiterated on Monday, as the heads of Italy's major energy firms confirmed that they won't be meeting the Russian president's demand.

Italy rejects Russian demand for gas payment in rubles
Italy is a key export market for Russian energy giant Gazprom. Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

The CEO of Italian energy giant Eni, Claudio Descalzi, also said on Monday that his company would not comply with the demand by Russia that “hostile countries”, including Italy, pay their energy bills using the Russian ruble, instead of euros or dollars,

“Eni will not pay for Russian gas in rubles,” Bloomberg quoted Descalzi as telling a panel discussion in Dubai.

“Eni doesn’t have rubles,” he said. “The contracts say fuel payments should be made in euros”.

READ ALSO: Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025

Russia’s demand is “not acceptable”, read a statement issued on behalf of the G7 by Germany’s government on Monday.

‘All G7 ministers agreed that this is a clear unilateral breach of existing contracts,” 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the country’s government, Russia’s Central Bank, and energy firm Gazprom to require payments for gas to be made in rubles as of March 31st, as he hit back at Western countries which have imposed sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The demand would be particularly problematic for Italy, which is heavily reliant on imported gas – around half of which is currently supplied by Russia.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck on Monday told reporters that “we must interpret this demand as Putin having his back against the wall,” following a virtual meeting with his G7 counterparts.

The club consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, with Germany currently holding the presidency.

French President Emmanuel Macron had already rejected Putin’s gas-for-rubles demand on Friday.

The Russian move “is not in line with what was signed, and I do not see why we would apply it,” Macron said.

Like other European countries, Italy says it is planning 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 entirely.

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Italy’s Meloni in Libya to discuss energy, migration

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli for talks on energy as well as the thorny issue of migration, Libyan state media said.

Italy's Meloni in Libya to discuss energy, migration

Meloni’s trip — her second to a North African country this week — is the first by a European leader to war-battered Libya since her predecessor Mario Draghi’s visit in April 2021.

State television said the Italian premier was received by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based, UN brokered Government of National Unity which is contested by a rival administration in the east.

Libya and its former colonial power Italy are key trade partners, particularly in energy, where Italian giant Eni plays a major role in tapping into Africa’s largest known oil reserves.

Meloni was accompanied by Eni chief Claudio Descalzi, who is expected to sign a deal with Libya’s National Oil Company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields.

Eni will invest $8 million in the two fields, NOC chief Farhat Bengdara said in televised remarks this week, adding they are expected to produce 850 million cubic metres of gas.

Meloni visited Algeria on Monday seeking supply deals from Africa’s top gas exporter to help reduce reliance on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

During her trip to Libya, she is also expected to discuss the issue of migration amid rising numbers of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.

Libya has been wracked by years of conflict and division since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country is a conduit for thousands of people each year fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.

Meloni’s far-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022.

The central Mediterranean route is considered the world’s most treacherous, according to the International Organization for Migration, which estimated that 1,377 migrants had disappeared on that route last year.