Relations between Italy and Russia have remained strong and positive even during the critical period of sanctions imposed on Moscow by the EU and its main Western partners since 2014 following the grave events in Ukraine. Italy, while recognising Russia’s clear responsibility for the unlawful annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Donbass, has always worked to keep a constructive dialogue with the Russian Federation. We believe in an inclusive approach that encourages Russia to collaborate in finding shared solutions for the world’s main challenges, including the fight against terrorism and major international crises.
Political representatives from the two countries meet very frequently.
With specific reference to 2017, we can mention the visit to Moscow paid by the then Foreign Minister Alfano (March 26-27) for meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich and Foreign Minister Lavrov (he met again on July 11, on the sidelines of the informal OSCE Ministerial meeting of Mauerbach, and on December 1 in Rome, at the MED Dialogues). Other particularly relevant events were the visit of the President of the Republic to Russia (April 10-13) and the meeting held in Sochi between the then Prime Minister Gentiloni and the Russian President Putin (May 17).
The positive trend was confirmed in 2018, starting with the visit to Moscow paid by the then Minister Alfano (February 1) in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office. In the second half of the year, a visit to Moscow was paid by Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi (October 8) and by President of the Council of Ministers Conte (October 24). Another meeting between Minister Moavero Milanesi and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov took place in Rome, on the sidelines of the MED Dialogues (November 23).
As to the relations between our Parliaments, on 30 September, after a hiatus of more than two years, the Italian-Russian interparliamentary “Grand Committee” meetings were resumed (the 15th session was held in in Moscow on October 6, 2017).
The overall level of economic relations between Italy and Russia remains substantial. After the significant drop in trade since 2014 due to Russia’s negative economic situation, the hydrocarbon price crash, the devaluation of the rouble, and the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia following the Ukrainian crisis, since 2017 the situation has improved significantly. According to ISTAT data, in 2017 trade between Russia and Italy amounted to 20.3 billion euros (up by 17% compared to 2016). Italian exports to Russia reached 8 billion euros (up by 19% compared to 2016) and Italian imports from Russia rose to 12.3 billion euros (up by 16%). In 2018 Italy was the seventh customer and the fifth supplier of Russia. Imports from Italy grew by 10.7% in the January-September period. Exports instead recorded a new modest turnaround (- 4.4%)
On an institutional level, the bilateral economic partnership is developed within the Italian-Russian Council for Economic, Industrial and Financial Cooperation (CIRCEIF), co-chaired by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and, on the Russian side, by the Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov. The 16th plenary session was held in Rome on December 17, 2018.
About 500 Italian businesses have cemented themselves in Russia, 70 of them running production plants, and eight banks and a number of law firms. Italy’s main exports are machinery and mechanical appliances, textiles, agri-food, furniture, means of transport and pharmaceutical products.
Bilateral relations are particularly strong in the energy sector due to the countries' interdependence leading to common interests. Russia is Italy’s principal energy supplier: we import 18% of our oil and 43% of our gas from Moscow. ENI, ENEL, Saipem, and Ansaldo Energia are strongly rooted in the Russian market.
Italian companies have made important investments in the following sectors: aerospace (Finmeccanica), household appliances (Indesit, Zoppas), automobile (FIAT), agri-food (Barilla, Cremonini, Ferrero), construction (Astaldi, Pizzarotti), heavy industry (Danieli, Iveco, Pirelli, Marcegaglia), thermo-mechanics (Termomeccanica Pompe, Nidec Asi), pharmaceutical packaging (Palladio Group), ceramics (Laminam/System) and valves (Orion).
In the banking sector, Unicredit Russia is the largest foreign bank in Russia, while Banca Intesa Russia is among the top five banks for loans to SMEs. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Iccrea, Mediobanca, Banco Popolare, Banca Popolare di Vicenza, and UBI Banca have all opened offices in the country. Assicurazioni Generali owns stock in Russia’s second-largest bank, VTB, and in the Ingostrakh insurance company.
The agreement signed between the Italian export credit agency SACE and the Export Insurance Agency of Russia (EXIAR) is also significant.
Russia also makes considerable investments in Italy, with a stock value of 2.8 billion dollars in 2017, especially in the energy and steel sectors.
Italy and the Russian Federation cooperate within the framework of numerous cultural projects that promote awareness of each other’s civil societies.
The new Executive Cultural Cooperation Programme for the next three-year period (2019-2021) will be signed shortly, with a view to promoting cooperation between Russian and Italian institutions and agencies in: education, culture and art; cultural heritage conservation; cinema, archives, libraries, and publishing; radio, television and other media; sports; and tourism. The projects include an exchange plan for professors and researchers, language scholarships, bilingual sections in Italian and Russian secondary schools and scientific publications.
In 2018 there were important opportunities to enhance the Italo-Russian cultural partnership, starting with the organization of the so-called "Russian Seasons" in Italy (a series of initiatives and events held in 2018 in the main Italian cities, with the participation of the most important Russian and Italian cultural institutions), as well as Italy's participation, as guest of honour, in the St. Petersburg Cultural Forum, from 15 to 17 November.
Youth exchanges are a particularly dynamic sector: these schemes allow a significant number of Italian students to visit Russia for studies and vice versa. At musical level, the innovative exchange program for young Italian and Russian musicians and opera singers, launched by the Embassy thanks to a private donation, is particularly relevant.
Interest in the Italian language is also increasing in Russia. Italian is taught at every level of Russia’s schools. Over the last few years, the PRIA programme for spreading knowledge of the Italian language in Russia has successfully led to Italian being taught in over 120 schools and institutes in the country and to the development of relations with the Italian Studies Departments of the Russian universities. The Italian officially recognized private school "Italo Calvino" and the Committee of the Dante Alighieri Society operate with increasing success in Moscow.
Moscow’s “Secondary school N.136” has opened an Italian-Russian bilingual section, and students who complete the course obtain a diploma recognised in both countries for university enrolment.
Among the main collaborations between Italian and Russian cultural institutions, the one with the Pushkin Museum should be highlighted. It has led to exhibitions that have brought some of Italy’s most important art to the Russian public. In addition, the Hermitage Italia Research and Cultural Centre has established collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Italy and Russia’s collaboration in the field of research and technology is founded on the Science and Technology Cooperation Accord, which was signed in Rome on 1 December 1995 and came into force in 1999. Italy especially collaborates with Russia in physics – theoretical and nuclear, and in medical applications – space, radiobiology, radiotherapy, and chemistry.