Italy gives Putin stage to make case against sanc­tions

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY AN­GUS MACKIN­NON

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin used a trip to Italy on Wed­nes­day to press his case against in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions and was urged by Pope Fran­cis to make a “sin­cere ef­fort” for peace in Ukraine.

Af­ter telling Ital­ian Pre­mier Mat­teo Renzi that West­ern sanc­tions im­posed over Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Ukraine would cost Ital­ian com­pa­nies a bil­lion eu­ros, Putin spent 50 min­utes chat­ting to the pope at the Vat­i­can.

A Vat­i­can state­ment said the pon­tiff had urged the Rus­sian leader, and other par­ties to the Ukraine con­flict, to make a “sin­cere ef­fort” for peace.

“The holy

fa­ther

stressed

that there has to be an im­por­tant and sin­cere ef­fort to achieve peace (in Ukraine),” the state­ment said.

“There was agree­ment on the im­por­tance of re­build­ing an at­mos­phere of dia­logue and that all the par­ties com­mit to ap­ply­ing the Minsk (cease-fire) ac­cords.”

Speak­ing two days af­ter the G-7 threat­ened tougher mea­sures against Moscow, Putin told a press con­fer­ence in Mi­lan that many con­tracts signed by Ital­ian firms had been stalled by the sanc­tions and may have to be torn up.

“Ital­ian com­pa­nies missed out on a bil­lion eu­ros,” he said. “They could have given their en­ter­prises work, cre­ated jobs. That didn’t hap­pen be­cause of the sanc­tions.”

Putin also said he was con­vinced sanc­tions would not be sus­tained in­def­i­nitely. “I count on the fact that ... sooner or later, we will get away from the re­stric­tions that we are en­coun­ter­ing to­day.”

G-7 ‘just a club’

He took a swipe at the G-7 group of lead­ing industrial na­tions — made up of the UK, Canada, France, Ger­many, Italy, Ja­pan and the United States — de­scrib­ing it as “not an or­ga­ni­za­tion, just a club.”

Renzi struck a markedly con­cil­ia­tory tone by stress­ing that the world wanted Rus­sia back on board to help re­solve prob­lems in places such as Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Ac­tive Rus­sian sup­port for ef­forts to pro­mote peace in Ukraine would “al­low us to push the one el­e­ment of di­ver­gence be­tween us off the ta­ble,” Renzi said in com­ments that con­trasted sharply with U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s de­scrip­tion this week of Putin as try­ing to re­live the glo­ries of the Soviet em­pire.

The Ital­ian leader said Putin had agreed that the Minsk agree­ment gov­ern­ing a shaky cease-fire in Ukraine had to be the “guiding star, the compass, the ref­er­ence point” for re­solv­ing the cri­sis.

The tough line adopted by the G-7 re­flected con­cern about a re­cent flare-up in fight­ing in eastern Ukraine, where the West ac­cuses Rus­sia of pro­vid­ing game-chang­ing mil­i­tary sup­port to pro-Moscow rebels who con­trol parts of two Rus­sian-speak­ing re­gions.

Ukraine this week said Rus­sian aid had al­lowed sep­a­ratist forces in the east to es­tab­lish a 42,500-strong fight­ing force.

Putin says any Rus­sians fight­ing along­side the rebels are vol­un­teers “an­swer­ing a call of the heart.”

Italy has long had an im­por­tant eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia and po­lit­i­cal ties were suf­fi­ciently close prior to the erup­tion of the Ukraine cri­sis for Rus­sia’s Baltic neigh­bors to ob­ject to an Ital­ian, Fed­er­ica Mogherini, be­ing named the EU’s for­eign min­is­ter last year amid claims she would be too soft on Moscow.

Italy is Rus­sia’s third-big­gest trad­ing part­ner af­ter China and Ger­many with deals be­tween the two coun­tries worth just over 30 bil­lion eu­ros (US$33.9 bil­lion) last year.

AP

Pope Fran­cis meets Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on the oc­ca­sion of a pri­vate au­di­ence at the Vat­i­can, Wed­nes­day, June 10.

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