Putin Meets Berlusconi in Italy While Claiming Sanctions Hurt Rome

AP Photo/Kerim Okten

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his trip to Italy to attempt to persuade Italian officials to end the sanctions against his country, which he claims hurt Italian businesses. He also snuggled close with disgraced politician Silvio Berlusconi.

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

The European Union and America passed sanctions against certain Russian companies and oligarchs after the Russian government annexed Crimea from Ukraine and Russian soldiers invaded east Ukraine in March 2014.

He did not supply any evidence beyond his statements that prove the sanctions harmed Italian businesses. In May 2014, despite the European Union sanctions, Italy’s tire company Pirelli signed a contract with Rosneft, Russia’s largest petroleum company, to open 200 stores at Rosneft stations and “cooperate in synthetic rubber production.” Only two months later, Pirelli appointed Rosnfet CEO Igor Sechin to their board of directors. Sechin is under EU and American sanctions and considered Putin’s lieutenant.

“I count on the fact that… sooner or later, we will get away from the restrictions that we are encountering today,” continued Putin.

Unfortunately for Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama agreed to extend Russian sanctions before they expire by the end of summer.

“The two leaders … agreed that the duration of sanctions should be clearly linked to Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” explained the White House.

European Council President Donald Tusk sided with President Obama. “If anyone wants to start a discussion about changing the sanctions regime, it could only be about strengthening it,” he said.

Merkel agreed with Obama that “economic sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine should not be lifted until a cease-fire accord there had been fully carried out and Moscow respected Ukraine’s sovereignty.” Fighting continues to escalate in east Ukraine, as the Russian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists launch offensives against the Ukrainian army, and clashes this past week left 21 people dead. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the Ukrainian people and the world the country faces an eventual Russian invasion.

“There is a colossal threat of a renewal of large-scale military operations from the side of the Russian-terrorist groups,” he said during his annual address to Parliament. “The military must be ready as much for a renewal of an offensive by the enemy in the Donbass as they are for a full-scale invasion along the whole length of the border with Russia. We must be truly ready for this.”

Before he departed Italy, Putin made time to meet with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today reported that Berlusconi promised Putin his Forza Italia party “would introduce a parliamentary motion calling for Italy to lift sanctions against Russia.”

The two men have bonded over the years. In January 2009, Ronald Spogli, the US ambassador to Rome, said Berlusconi admired “Putin’s macho, decisive and authoritarian governing style.” Putin also defended his friend when Berlsuconi came under fire for his “bunga bunga” sex parties.