MILAN, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A meeting between Russian
President Vladimir Putin and the heads of some of Italy's top
companies to boost business ties between the two countries is
set to go ahead on Wednesday despite rising tensions over
The meeting, originally scheduled for November, will be via
a video link and feature top managers at companies like energy
group Eni power giant Enel and lender
"Italy is one of the leading exporters to Russia and the
idea is to stimulate dialogue between the sides," one of the
organisers said, confirming the event.
The meeting comes as Western leaders step up preparations
for any Russian military action against Ukraine.
The United States and the European Union have threatened
economic sanctions in case of any invasion by Moscow and Western
leaders say unity is paramount, though differences have emerged
over how best to respond.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has previously said the
EU has little leverage with Russia over Ukraine, but needs to
keep talking to Putin to calm tensions.
The meeting on Wednesday, involving 20-25 companies, was
organised by the Italy-Russia chamber of commerce (CCIR) and the
Italian-Russian business committee chaired by Marco Tronchetti
Provera, head of tyre group Pirelli.
In a statement on Jan. 17 announcing the meeting CCIR
president Vincenzo Trani warned of anti-Russian rhetoric at this
particular moment. "For us it is crucial the economic-business
dialogue between Italy and Russia be stimulated."
Other Italian companies participating in the meeting include
Saipem, Maire Tecnimont, Barilla and
Energy is expected to be one of the top issues on the agenda
at a time when surging natural gas prices have inflated energy
bills for businesses and households. Russia supplies the EU with
around a third of its gas.
An escalated conflict between Russia and Ukraine would be
likely to further increase energy costs for many countries.
Italy was Russia's fifth biggest trading partner in 2020 and
in the first nine months of last year commerce between the two
countries rose 44% on the year.
(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes
Editing by Mark Heinrich)