Italy maintains a strategic partnership with Russia founded on interdependence and common interests. Over recent years, bilateral relations have achieved a high level of excellence deserving of “privileged relations” status, with a calendar of annual political events hosted alternatively in Italy and Russia: the Inter-ministerial Summit; the Civil Societies Dialogue Forum; the Foreign-Defence Ministerial Meeting and the Economic, Industrial and Financial Cooperation Council.
Political encounters between the two countries are frequent. Among the most recent, deserving of mention are the Foreign-Defence Ministerial meeting in Moscow, on which occasion Minister Terzi and Defence Minister Di Paola were received by then-President of the Russian Federation Medvedev; in the same month, President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Russian Duma Pushkov made a visit to Rome during which he met with Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Dassù; on 18 May, in the margins of the G8 meeting at Camp David, Italian Premier Monti met with Russian Premier Medvedev.
Italy’s convinced and, at times, decisive support for Russia’s journey toward the “Western community” (EU, NATO, WTO, OECD) is dictated by the need for a balanced and realistic interpretation of the relationship between the countries of the West and Russia, with a preference for an inclusive approach.
Italy is the Russian Federation’s third largest trade partner (excluding the Netherlands, whose statistical calculations include all goods that transit via the port of Rotterdam), and seventh supplier. Trade exceeded 27 billion euro in 2011 (that figure was approximately 22 in 2010). There are nearly 500 Italian firms operating in Russia, while key export sectors for Italian goods include machinery and mechanical equipment, textiles, leather products and apparel.
Italy has a very fruitful energy partnership with Moscow in light of an interdependence that produces common interests. The firms ENI, ENEL and Saipem are very active in Russia. We purchase approximately 15% of our oil and 30% of our gas from Russia. Moscow has traditionally been a highly reliable supplier, to whom we have turned in the case of difficulties with other suppliers.
In the industrial and high-tech sectors, firms such as Finmeccanica successfully collaborate with Russian firms: Alenia and Sukhoi collaborated on the production and marketing of the Super Jet 100, and other companies such as Pirelli, Danieli, Gruppo Marcegaglia, Ferrero, Indesit, Cremonini, Coeclerici, Marazzi and Barbaro have made substantial investments in Russia. FIAT recently consolidated its Russian strategy, renewing a joint venture with Sberbank for the assembly in St. Petersburg of 120,000 Jeeps annually; an agreement was signed for an investment with the local firm ZIL (20% Sberbank); Case-NewHolland-Kamaz has launched a joint venture for the assembly of farm machinery, and Iveco/Oboron Service for the future production of the “Lynx” armoured military vehicle.
In the banking sector, Unicredit Banca is ranked 8th in Russia in terms of assets, and is the top foreign bank there. Banca Intesa is among the top institutes for credit to small and midsized enterprises in Russia. Other Italian banks such as Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Banca Popolare Italiana and Unione Bancaria Italiana also maintain branch offices in Russia.
Assicurazioni Generali holds stock in Russia’s second largest bank, VTB, and in the Russian firm Ingostrakh.
A key new development was the birth in February 2012 of the new Russian agency for export and credit investment EXIAR, which signed an agreement with the Italian agency SACE placing it in a position of advisor.
Russian investments in Italy are also going at a brisk pace, particularly in the sectors of energy (Gazprom, LuKoil and Renova) and steel (Severstal, RusAl, Evraz), along with a variety of others (Russkij Standard’s recent acquisition of Gancia winemakers, and the purchase of Wind by Vimpelcom are two examples).
The Year of Italian Language and Culture in Russia and of Russian Language and Culture in Italy in 2011 provided a highly visible showcase for some major cultural initiatives. It was opened in Italy with a visit by President Medvedev in February 2011 and closed with a visit by Italian Minister for Culture Ornaghi to Moscow in December.
Youth exchanges are especially dynamic, with a significant number annually of Italian students completing periods of study in Russia, and vice versa.
Interest in the Italian language is on the rise in Russia both in terms of numbers of students as well as of the spread of the knowledge of our language to new areas of the country. Particularly significant is the fact that Italian is being taught at all levels of the Russian school system, and recent years have seen the success of PRIA, programme for the spread of the Italian language in Russia, which established the teaching of our language in approximately 50 of the country’s schools.
Moscow’s “High School 136” has a bilingual Italian-Russian section, established in keeping with a memorandum of understanding that went into effect on 6 April 2004. The diploma issued at the end of the course of study is recognised by both countries for admission to university.
The Italo-Russian Civil Society Dialogue Forum was set up in 2004 and is another key annual appointment that brings together eminent representatives of cultural, social, political and economic spheres.
Among the many collaborative efforts by Italian and Russian cultural institutes, deserving of mention are those with the Pushkin Museum, which led to exhibitions in Russia of some of Italy’s most significant artworks. The Centro Scientifico e Culturale Ermitage Italia collaborates with the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg.
Collaboration is also very dynamic between Milan’s Teatro Piccolo and Moscow’s Maly Theatre. The Bolshoi Theatre signed a protocol of understanding with La Scala that set the stage for a performance in the autumn of 2011 by the orchestra of La Scala at the Bolshoi’s reopening to the public.
Bilateral cooperation in science and technology proceeds on the basis of a Science and Technology Cooperation Accord signed in Rome on December 1st 1995 and in effect since 1999. Collaboration with Moscow is especially active in the field of physics (both theoretical as well as nuclear, not least for medical applications), space – a sector in which Russia is a leader in several major projects – radio-biology, radio-medicine and chemistry.
Finally, mention should also be made of the project “Russians in Italy”, an initiative promoted by the Slavic studies departments of four Italian universities aimed at reconstructing an overview of the presence of Russians in Italy over the centuries.