Anti-war graffiti and fire reported at Russian TV presenter’s Italian villas

Vandals lit a small fire and dyed a swimming pool red on Wednesday at two luxury Lake Como villas owned by a pro-Putin propagandist, according to reports.

Anti-war graffiti and fire reported at Russian TV presenter's Italian villas
Anti-war slogans and red paint were sprayed on the walls of a villa in Pianello del Lario, overlooking Lake Como, owned by TV presenter Vladimir Solovyev. Photo by STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

The wo vacation homes on Lake Como owned by Russian oligarch Vladimir Solovyev were targeted by vandals on Wednesday, according to reports.

The words “killer” and “no war” were sprayed onto the walls of one villa in Pianello del Lario, reportedly owned by Vladimir Solovyev, while the swimming pool overlooking Lake Como was coloured red, images from the Ansa news agency showed.

Italian authorities are also investigating a fire at another of Solovyev’s vacation homes in the nearby town of Menaggio.

Arson is suspected as tyres were used to start the fire, Ansa reported on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Italy expels 30 Russian diplomats over security concerns

Anti-war slogans and red paint sprayed on the entrance to a villa in Pianello del Lario, overlooking Lake Como, owned by Vladimir Solovyev. Photo by STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

The villas, together worth some eight million euros according to the Italian government, are believed to be currently empty.

Solovyev, a prominent radio and television presenter, is considered the Kremlin’s most prolific and enthusiastic propagandist.

He has three villas in the area, all of which have been seized by Italian financial police as part of Western sanctions against those close to Putin.

Local fire chiefs played down the scale of the blaze after Italian media reported plumes of black smoke in the area.

 “Just one team of firemen put out the fire within a very short time,” Como fire chief, Gennaro di Maio, told AFP.

“There is hardly any damage, it was burnt tyres that gave off visible black smoke,” he said.

Firefighters at one of two villas on Lake Como belonging to a Russian TV presenter linked to Putin. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco (Italian fire service)

Menaggio’s mayor, Michele Spaggiari, told Italy’s AGI news agency that the fire appeared to be “a demonstrative act” causing little or no damage.

Spaggiari said Solovyev bought the property about five years ago.

READ ALSO: Italy gripped by mystery of $700m superyacht said to belong to Putin

Solovyev owns two houses on Lake Como that are worth a combined eight million euros, the Italian government said as it announced the property seizures last month.

Police are investigating anti-Russian graffiti at the second property, Ansa reported.

The Italian government said on Monday that it has so far seized over 900 million euros worth of assets belonging to EU-sanctioned Russian oligarchs, including a 530-million-euro yacht.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the end of March urged the Italian government to continue the seizures and to stop the country from being a playground for Russia’s ultra-rich.

“Don’t be the place that welcomes these people,” Zelensky told lawmakers in Italy, which has long been a top holiday destination for Russia’s elite.

“We must freeze them all: freeze their properties, their accounts, their yachts,” he said.

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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.