Italy sought deals with Russia shortly before Putin invaded Ukraine | Tribune press service

Senior Italian and Russian officials met to discuss potential business investments worth hundreds of millions of euros just over a week before Moscow invaded Ukraine, sources close to the government said. case.

The talks in Moscow included a possible partnership between Genoa-based Ansaldo Energia and Russian group NordEnergo, according to the people, who asked not to be named for disclosing private negotiations.

Rome-based energy company Enel SpA’s plan to invest in Slovenske Elektrarne with Russia’s Sberbank, which has funded the Slovak utility for decades, was also discussed, the sources said. Other topics included a 200 million euro ($225 million) investment by aluminum group Rusal in a plant it owns in Sardinia and a recent deal between mining technology companies.

Company representatives did not personally attend the Moscow event, the people said. Ansaldo Energia, Enel and Rusal declined to comment, while a spokesman said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was unaware of the meeting.

When the talks took place, Russia repeatedly denied it would invade Ukraine, but now that it has, it seems unlikely to continue.

Italy, which had been cautious about the toughest measures in response to the attacks, already has significant trade ties with Russia, with trade between the countries worth more than 21 billion euros a year. last year, according to the Italian trade agency. The country also imports around 45% of its gas consumption from Russia, one of the highest shares in the European Union.

The talks the week of February 14 came after a group of Italian business leaders attended a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late January, despite a request from Draghi’s office to cancel it in due to the geopolitical situation. Among the participants was the CEO of Enel, Francesco Starace, who is also the brother of the Italian ambassador in Moscow.

Bloomberg News has previously reported on documents showing European countries have sought exemptions for energy-related deals from financial sanctions against Ukraine, and raised concerns about targeting sectors sensitive to their economies, though Italy denies requesting exemptions.

While positions have changed since the invasion, the measures introduced so far by the US and EU remain limited. However, the momentum appeared to be moving towards stronger measures over the weekend, with the Italian government saying on Saturday it would back any EU decision to eject Russia from the SWIFT international payments system.

Ansaldo has been seeking for months to sell large gas turbines to Moscow, which have limited production capacity, in exchange for favorable commercial terms, one person said, but previous talks fell through because Russian law requires certain parts to be locally manufactured. Another person said negotiations remained slow.

Ansaldo is controlled by Italian state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA, with China’s Shanghai Electric holding a stake.

Proposed partner NordenergoGroup, which also declined to comment, is owned by billionaire Alexei Mordashov, whose company Power Machines was sanctioned by the United States for supplying turbines to Crimea after Russia annexed the peninsula. in 2014.

Participants at the Moscow meeting also discussed the potential of Italian companies in Russia more broadly, the sources said. Italy is currently Russia’s seventh largest market and 14th for imports, according to the latest data from the Foreign Ministry.

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