‘A waste of time’: Talks with Putin go nowhere, says Italy’s PM

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Sunday that the diplomatic efforts by the West to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt the war in Ukraine had so far achieved nothing.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi leaves after a speech on the Ukraine situation in Rome's Palazzo Chigi on February 24, 2022, after Russia's ground forces invaded Ukraine.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said that talks with Putin haven't been effective so far. Photo by Remo Casilli / POOL / AFP.

“I am beginning to think that those people are right when they say ‘It is useless to talk to him, it’s just a waste of time’,” Draghi told Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.

Draghi said he had always felt French President Emmanuel Macron, who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, “is right to try every possible avenue of dialogue.

“But I have the impression that the horror of the war with its carnage, with what they have done to children and women, is completely independent of the words and phone calls that are made,” the Italian leader said.

So far, Putin’s goal had not been the search for peace, “but the attempt to annihilate the Ukrainian resistance, occupy the country and entrust it to a friendly government,” Draghi continued.

Draghi spoke with Putin in recent days about achieving peace.

“I asked him: ‘When are you meeting (Ukraine president) Zelensky? Only you two can untie the knots’. He replied: ‘The time is not now’. I insisted: ‘Decide on a ceasefire’. Again, ‘No: the time is not now’.”

Like many others at the beginning of the conflict, Draghi had thought a quick victory for the Russians was likely.

READ ALSO: ‘Peace or air conditioning?’ Italy vows to follow EU on Russian gas embargo

“This did not happen: the victory did not come and we do not know if it will ever come. The Ukrainian resistance is heroic,” Draghi said.

Draghi’s comments follow the discovery of mass graves in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, recently occupied by the Russian army. Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

“What awaits us is a war of resistance, prolonged violence with destruction that will continue. There is no sign that the Ukrainian people can accept the Russian occupation.”

Speaking of the atrocities in Bucha, where civilians were left dead in the street, Draghi was cautious to label what Russian troops committed there – as are other European leaders such as Spain’s prime minister who saw possible ‘genocide’ in Ukraine.

“What do we want to call the horror of Bucha if not war crimes? But I understand that terms like ‘genocide’ or ‘war crimes’ have a precise legal meaning,” he said.

“There will be a way and time to verify which words best suit the inhuman acts of the Russian army,” Draghi added.

Draghi’s comments came after Italy said it would reopen its Ukrainian embassy in Kyiv from Monday.

The Ukraine war has sparked a Western push for sanctions against Moscow, including moves to drastically cut purchases of Russian gas.

READ ALSO: Italy rejects Russian demand for gas payment in rubles

The Italian government has taken steps to reduce reliance on Russia, such as signing a gas deal with Algeria.

Draghi said that while economic sanctions against Russia were “essential to weaken the aggressor,”  they would not necessarily stop the war in the short term.

Nevertheless, the West could help Ukraine directly by supplying weapons.

“We need to help the Ukrainians directly, and that is what we are doing. Not doing so would be tantamount to telling them: surrender, accept slavery and submission – a message contrary to our European values of solidarity,” Draghi said.

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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.