by Maurizio Vezzosi
Friday, 28
January 2022
Explainer
08:00

Italy’s special relationship with Vladimir Putin

Italian business leaders met the Russian president this week
by Maurizio Vezzosi
Matteo Salvini pictured in Moscow’s Red Square wearing a Putin t-shirt

In a week in which everyone seems to agree that Russia is poised to invade Ukraine, some of Italy’s largest companies — including Pirelli, Generali and UniCredit — held a video meeting with Putin himself with the aim of “expanding ties” with Russia.

The meeting, held Wednesday, was organised by the Italy-Russia Chamber of Commerce, members of which include Tronchetti Provera, the chief executive of tyre manufacturer Pirelli and Dmitry Konov, head of petrochemicals producer Sibur. According to La Repubblica, the White House openly criticised the meeting, stressing the risk of an imminent “invasion of Europe”, while the Italian government urged the Italian-Russian chamber of commerce to scrap the talk, asking major utility companies, in which the Italian state has a stake, to pull out of the meeting. It went ahead nonetheless.

Italy’s relationship with Vladimir Putin has long been closer than most of its European neighbours, in no small part due to the Russian president’s old friendship with Silvio Berlusconi. Italy promoted and realised the historical 2002 Rome Summit between George Bush Jr. and a young Putin, which gave birth to the first forum for dialogue between NATO and Russian Federation. During the spring of 2020, a contingent of doctors and specialists from the Russian army came to Italy to help the country face the Covid outbreak in Lombardy — something unthinkable in any other NATO country.

Following the 2014 Crimean invasion, there was a cooling in relations between the two countries and Italy backed EU sanctions against Russia, but this remains a controversial topic in Italian politics. Sanctions and reciprocal sanctions with Russia are estimated to cost the Italian economy around four billion euros a year and they have crippled certain industries. They became a major populist talking point in the 2018 elections, with Matteo Salvini even being pictured wearing Putin’s face in Moscow’s Red Square in protest against the sanctions.

Italy is an export-oriented country, lacking in energy resources, while Russia is among the world’s main energy exporters, but needs to import a wide range of finished goods. Italian products are generally highly appreciated in Russia and the other post-Soviet countries.

During the Conte I government, in which Salvini was deputy prime minister, Italy voted several times to renew the sanctions. Still today the pro-Russian sympathies that still persist in parliament are largely ignored — due to the marginalisation of parliament itself and the Atlanticist stance of the Draghi government.

And so, despite the sanctions, the US military presence in Italy, the Cold War-style atmosphere and the looming threat of war, Italian business leaders are forging their own diplomacy with Russia.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
5 months ago

I can’t see why Italy should stop trading with Russia. Germany would jump in to take the business if it could.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
5 months ago

The egos of political leaders can cause wars accidentally. So can incompetence. So can miss-communication. Putin has unfinished business in Ukraine/Crimea and it needs to be talked through pragmatically for the best interest of the populations, not the politicians. Posturing and “high moral ground” do not help. An article on the lost skill of diplomacy would be interesting.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

Explain how we can engage in diplomacy with an imperialist who has presented demands he knew couldn’t be entertained that the Soviet empire be reinstated? He doesn’t want to engage in diplomacy and made that clear.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

IF we appease him over Ukraine the we’ll be appeasing him over the Swalki gap or Estonia next..then all the Baltic states, then Poland…and then Bugaria and Rumania may start wondering what the actual point of the EU is.

Iris C
Iris C
5 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

I don’t think there is any evidence for this. Russia trades with these countries and has no reason to be belligerent towards them.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Bring price of oil down to $20 barrel for next four years and develop Shale Oil and Gas in Europe and LFT Nuclear Reactors. If the USA develops Shale oil and gas to full capacity and builds required piplines, oil at $20/basrrel can be achieved. Bankrupt Russia.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

No surprise that the gangsters running much of Italian commerce want to be close to the gangsters running Russia.

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I presume you also support banning The City in London from dealing with Russian wealth.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
5 months ago

In this country the FBPE crowd obsess about how evil Boris’s lying Brexit was a hammer blow to the glorious ideals of an ever more united Europe.
The person who has most gain from a disintegrating EU is Putin, and he knows how to pick apart the threads without anyone in Brussels even noticing enough to oppose him…the first they’ll know the moth has been in is when two more sleeves fall off their jacket…the EU is splitting, from the Anglosphere, and internally, because the appeased have become appeasers.

Matt M
Matt M
5 months ago

Wasn’t there some tie up years ago between Fiat and the Soviets via the commie unions? Think I saw it on Top Gear!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Italy bought Russian steel scrap in the 1970s which resulted in massive ruist problems for their cars.
The Euro was supportd by German car companies to stop Italy devaluing the Lira which benefited the top end Italian car companies. I expect contacts with Russia is way of Italian companies getting their own back on the Germany.

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
5 months ago

Does “forging their own diplomacy” mean saying nothing critical and hoping business between the two countries can continue as normal?