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UKRAINE

‘Deeply disappointed’: Italy’s Berlusconi breaks silence over friend Putin

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday spoke out over the Ukraine invasion, saying he was "deeply disappointed and saddened" by the behaviour of his old friend Russian President Vladimir Putin.

'Deeply disappointed': Italy's Berlusconi breaks silence over friend Putin
Silvio Berlusconi addresses a Forza Italia rally in Rome on March 9, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

“I cannot and I do not want to hide that I am deeply disappointed by the behaviour of Vladimir Putin,” Berlusconi told a public meeting of his right-wing Forza Italia party in Rome.

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

“I’ve known him about twenty years and he always seemed to me to be a democrat and a man of peace,” the 85-year-old billionaire said.

Berlusconi, who served as head of the Italian government three times between 1994 and 2011, had previously refrained from publicly criticising Putin.

When he was in power, Berlusconi maintained friendly personal ties with the Russian president, going so far as to invite him on vacation to his luxurious villa in Sardinia.

Italia media said Berlusconi’s words marked “the end of a 20-year friendship”.

Silvio Berlusconi, who was Italy’s prime minister at the time, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin around his Sardinia estate in August 2003. Photo by PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / ITAR-TASS / AFP

“Faced with the horror of the massacres of civilians in Bucha and other places, real war crimes, Russia can not deny its responsibilities,” he said on Saturday.

His party forms part of the broad coalition supporting the government led by Mario Draghi.

Though several of the parties in Draghi’s coalition government have close ties with Russia, from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party to Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), all have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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There was initial concern following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that Italy would hold back from enforcing tough sanctions on Moscow due to longstanding relationships between Italian political powers and the Kremlin.

The two countries’ ties date back to the Cold War. But things changed in 2021, when Prime Minister Mario Draghi took office with a strongly pro-European, pro-NATO stance.

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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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