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ENERGY

Russia further cuts Italy’s gas supply due to ‘maintenance work’

Italy's Eni said on Monday Gazprom was further reducing the supply of gas, as the Russian giant began 10 days of routine maintenance on its Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian national energy firm Gazprom for imports of natural gas.
Italy is heavily dependent on Russian national energy firm Gazprom for imports of natural gas. Photo by Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP

“Gazprom announced that today it will supply to Eni volumes of gas for approximately 21 million cubic meters/day, while the average for the last few days was of about 32 million cubic meters/day,” Eni said.

The Russian energy giant had previously cut gas supplies to Italy over a period of several days in June amid mounting tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. 

At the time Gazprom blamed the shortfall on problems at its Portovaya plant which feeds the Nord Stream gas pipeline, through which Gazprom transports part of the volumes destined for Eni.

READ ALSO: Italy receives lower Russian gas supply for second day

However, the move came just days after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi visited Kyiv on a surprise joint visit with the leaders of France and Germany to show solidarity with Ukraine.

Draghi said the squeeze was a cynical retaliatory move by Moscow, and denounced Gazprom’s technical explanation as ‘lies’.

“We are seeing a political use of gas, just as we have seen a political use of wheat,” he said in reference to the millions of tons of wheat that were stuck in Ukrainian ports at the time.

“This is a (Russian) strategy that… must be faced and fought.”

READ ALSO: Italian PM says Russia’s excuses for gas cut are ‘lies’ as shortfall continues

Part of Gazprom’s gas supplies reach Italy via the Trans Austria Gas Pipeline (TAG), but some of it comes through the Nord Stream 1, which has now officially been shut off due to annual maintenance work.

The fear is that – with relations between Russia and the West at their lowest in years because of the invasion of Ukraine – Gazprom might take the opportunity to simply refuse to reopen the valves.

A long-term shutdown of the pipeline would hit EU countries – particularly Italy – hard, deepening an energy crisis in which uncertain supplies have pushed prices up ahead of Europe’s winter.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi was forced to clarify on Friday remarks about long-time friend Vladimir Putin after saying the Russian leader was "pushed" into a "special operation".

Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin's invasion of Ukraine

The sympathetic remarks caused outrage and concern as the 85-year-old former prime minister’s party is expected to return to power following Italian general elections on Sunday as a partner in a government led by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy.

“Putin has fallen into a truly difficult and dramatic situation,” Berlusconi told Rai television late on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote

Berlusconi, who is known for his longstanding friendship with Russia’s president, described Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation”.

He said Putin was “pushed” into it by “the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers”

Russian troops were supposed to enter Kyiv and “replace the Zelensky government with decent people,” Berlusoni added.

“Instead they found an unexpected resistance which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West.”

His comments sparked an outcry in Italy, prompting the former premier to insist he was misunderstood and had just been reporting what others had said.

READ ALSO: Italy’s newspapers warn of Russian ‘interference’ in election

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable,” he said in a statement on Friday, offering his support for the EU and NATO.

Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, called his comments “scandalous”.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer on Friday said the EC had no comment on Berlusconi’s statement.

The other member of his alliance with Meloni, League leader Matteo Salvini, has often expressed admiration for the Russian president and recently criticised EU sanctions.

Meloni insists that she strongly supports the policy of the outgoing Italian government in sending weapons to Ukraine and backing Western sanctions against Russia.

However, Meloni is known for changing her political stance and, like Berlusconi and Salvini, in 2014 said that she supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

His statement sparked fears that the new government would change Italy’s stance on Russia, returning to friendly relations with Moscow – as had long been the case under a series of governments before Mario Draghi became PM in 2021.

READ ALSO: Berlusconi’s messy break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

Draghi is strongly in favour of NATO, the EU, and sanctions over Ukraine, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But some of Italy’s major parties – Forza Italia, the League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – have long pursued a special relationship with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and has long maintained close business and political ties with Russia.

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