* Putin talks energy cooperation with Italy businessmen
* Meeting went ahead despite government plea
* Talks 'friendly and constructive', Ukraine not discussed
(Adds comments after meeting)
MILAN/MOSCOW, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir
Putin stressed the importance of ties between Russia's energy
industry and Italy as he addressed Italian business leaders in a
video-conference on Wednesday despite rising tensions over
The meeting with top Italian companies, including
state-controlled Enel, went ahead despite a call from
Rome for business executives not to attend.
Western leaders are stepping up preparations for any Russian
military action against Ukraine and making plans to shield
Europe from potential disruptions to Russian energy supplies.
Energy is one of the main issues on the agenda for Europe as
surging natural gas prices have inflated energy bills for
businesses and households. Russia supplies the European Union
with around a third of its gas.
"I would like to underscore that we consider Italy as one of
the leading economic partners," Putin said in opening remarks,
noting that Italian energy companies were benefiting from
long-term supply deals with Gazprom.
He said Moscow was especially pleased with cooperation with
Italian companies and banks on large-scale projects in the
energy sector like Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2.
An organiser of the event told Reuters the two-and-a-half
hour meeting with top managers from 16 companies had lasted
longer than expected and had been friendly and constructive.
"Putin never spoke about Ukraine or Italian politics," the
head of the Italy-Russia chamber of commerce (CCIR) Vincenzo
Underscoring the business links between the two countries,
industrial group Maire Tecnimont, also represented at
the meeting, said on Wednesday it had won a contract from
Russian oil group Rosneft worth 1.1 billion euros.
Managers of big Italian companies, including power group
Enel, the country's top two banks Intesa Sanpaolo and
UniCredit and insurer Generali met Putin via
the video link.
The Italian executives, who included UniCredit CEO Andrea
Orcel and Enel chief Francesco Starace, gathered in two luxury
hotels in Rome and Milan.
"The meeting is a private initiative and there is no
government involvement in it," an Italian government official
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russian ministers
would attend the meeting as well as Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft
and Dmitry Konov, head of petrochemical company Sibur.
The video call was organised by the CCIR and the
Italian-Russian business committee chaired by Marco Tronchetti
Provera, head of tyre manufacturer Pirelli.
Other companies scheduled to take part included
state-controlled energy groups Eni and Saipem
. But Eni said on Tuesday it would not attend, while a
source said Saipem had also opted not to take part.
Eni has strategic long-term gas contracts with Russia and
agreements with Rosneft which are on hold. Italy sources around
40% of its gas from Russia.
Enel CEO Starace, whose brother Giorgio is the Italian
ambassador to Moscow, took part in the meeting, pictures showed.
The world's biggest private green energy group operates in
Russia through Enel Russia and has renewable power ventures.
Trani said the energy transition and green technology had
been one of the issues discussed as well as broader industrial
Italy was Russia's fifth biggest trading partner in 2020.
Their trade in the first nine months of last year was up 44% on
the same period the previous year.
Putin said around 500 Italian firms operated in Russia in
sectors like energy, steel, and banking, investing around $5
billion in the economy.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome, Stephen Jewkes in Milan
and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, additional reporting by
Valentina Za, Elvira Pollina, Giuseppe Fonte and Giulio
Piovaccari, writing by Giulia Segreti; editing by Keith Weir and