Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Italy today seeking the support of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for cooperation on energy projects and a new regional aircraft.
Medvedev will be in Rome for two days. He will discuss cooperation in energy, which accounts for 90 percent of Russia’s exports to Italy, his foreign-policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, told reporters at the Kremlin yesterday. Russia is also counting on Italy’s help to promote its SuperJet plane to new customers including Alitalia SpA, Prikhodko said.
“Italy needs Russian gas and oil, which amount to about one-third of our consumption,” Berlusconi, standing next to Medvedev, told a news conference in Rome. “We have a strong relationship at the political level.”
During Medvedev’s visit, OAO Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of natural-gas exporter OAO Gazprom, will sign an agreement to enter Eni SpA’s Elephant oil project in Libya, Prikhodko said. Gazprom plans to buy a 33.3 percent stake, half of Eni’s current holding, for $163 million, the Russian company said in November in a Eurobond prospectus that estimated the oil resources of the project at 212 million tons.
Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller and his Eni counterpart, Paolo Scaroni, will also discuss progress on their joint South Stream natural-gas pipeline project, which will pass under the Black Sea.
“We’d like to further develop our ties in the sphere of gas trade and other energy products, including nuclear energy,” Medvedev told reporters in Rome, where he opened the year of Russian culture and language in Italy. He’s due to meet with Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow.
Russia’s Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co., meanwhile, is in negotiations to sell its SuperJet to Alitalia. The plane, Russia’s first major passenger aircraft since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, is due to receive its European certification by year-end. Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica SpA holds 25 percent in the Sukhoi unit that makes the SuperJet.
Alitalia has an agreement to operate 20 jets made by Embraer SA, the world’s fourth-largest airplane maker, said a press officer at the Brazilian company who declined to be named, citing company policy.
“We hope Alitalia hasn’t lost interest in this jet, and it will only increase after its certification process is complete,” Prikhodko said, adding that Medvedev will raise the issue during talks with Berlusconi.
Vnesheconombank, Russia’s development bank, will sign a cooperation agreement with Italian state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. The accord will focus on financing long-term projects in infrastructure, energy and the environment, VEB Chairman Vladimir Dmitriev told reporters in Rome. He gave no details.
Russia and Italy will also sign an agreement on the transit of weapons, ammunition and military personnel through Russian airspace to Afghanistan, Prikhodko said.
Medvedev’s visit comes after Berlusconi yesterday was ordered to stand trial on charges of abuse of power and paying a minor for sex, fueling calls for his resignation amid a clash with the Italy’s judiciary. The trial is due to begin April 6.
The premier, who has denied any wrongdoing, has called the charges “disgusting” and “groundless.” A conviction on both counts could carry a maximum sentence of 15 years, though it’s unlikely Berlusconi, 74, would be jailed, given his age and the probability he could run out the statute of limitations during the appeals process.
The Milan court is investigating Berlusconi’s relationship with Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan national and part-time nightclub performer nicknamed Ruby Heart Stealer, who attended at least one party at his Milan mansion in February 2010 when she was 17. The allegations of abuse of power stem from his role in helping secure her release from police custody in Milan after she was detained in May on unrelated theft charges.