Relations between Italy and Russia remain intense and positive, despite several sanctioning measures imposed in Moscow by the EU and its main Western partners, in particular in connection with the events in Ukraine in 2014. While acknowledging Russia's responsibilities with regard to the illegitimate annexation of Crimea and destabilisation in Eastern Ukraine, Italy considers it necessary to maintain a dialogue approach with the Russian Federation. This is in line with the double-track line decided within the EU and NATO (firmness on principles and deterrence, accompanied by dialogue and engagement). We support the need for an inclusive approach that encourages Russia to work together to find shared solutions to major global problems, including the fight against climate change, pandemics, terrorism, etc. and major international and regional crises (particularly in the Middle East).
Meetings between the political representatives of the two countries are very frequent.
In October 2018, President Conte visited Moscow for talks with President Putin, before which 13 economic and trade agreements were also concluded. This was followed by the visit of Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi, also in October, and that of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Rome the following December.
On 4th July 2019, President Putin made an official visit to Italy, where he was received by President Mattarella and President Conte and on the occasion of which the Italian-Russian Civil Society Dialogue Forum was also reactivated, with a meeting held at the Foreign Ministry. In the margins of the visit, two agreements in the field of cultural and technical-scientific collaboration were also signed (see below).
Finally, Foreign Minister Lavrov visited Italy from 5th to 7th December 2019, where he met Minister Di Maio on the side-lines of the Med Dialogues in Rome, and again on 18th February 2020 together with Defence Minister Shoigu for the "External-Defense" meeting (so-called 2+2) held with his counterparts Ministers Di Maio and Guerini, resuming a dialogue format that had been suspended since 2013.
On the parliamentary front, the meetings of the so-called "large Italian-Russian interparliamentary Commission" continued. The last session was held in Moscow on 4-5 March 2019.
The overall level of economic relations between Italy and Russia remains important. After the significant drop in trade from 2014, due to the negative economic situation in the Russian economy following the collapse in the price of hydrocarbons and the devaluation of the rouble, as well as the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and other Western partners following the Ukrainian crisis and the related Russian counter-sanctions to the European market, the situation has improved significantly since 2017.
In terms of exports, the presence of Made in Italy products on the Russian market has returned to the 2013 market share (around 4.5%), recovering from the downturn of 2015-2016. In terms of absolute value, however, both exports and overall trade have not returned to pre-crisis values.
According to ISTAT data, in 2019 trade between Russia and Italy amounted to 22.2 billion euros (‑1.3% compared to 2018). Italian exports to Russia reached 7.9 billion euros (+4.6%) and Italian imports from Russia reached 14.3 billion euros (-4.3%).
On the institutional level, the bilateral economic partnership finds its synthesis in the Italian‑Russian Council for Economic, Industrial and Financial Cooperation (CIRCEIF), co-chaired on the Italian side by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and, on the Russian side, by the Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov. The 16th plenary session was held in Rome on 17th December 2018.
About 500 Italian companies are permanently present in Russia, 70 of them with production facilities, plus 68 banks and some law firms. The most important sectors of our exports are machinery and mechanical and electrical equipment, textile-footwear, pharmaceuticals, agri-food, furniture and means of transport.
Bilateral relations are particularly intense in the energy sector, in the light of objective interdependence. Russia is overall the main energy supplier to Italy: from Moscow we purchase about 15% of our oil imports and 43% of our gas imports. The presence of Italian companies in the sector in the Russian market is strongly rooted. Italian companies have made important investments in the aerospace, household appliances, automotive, agri-food, construction, heavy industry, thermomechanics, pharmaceutical packaging, ceramics and valves.
In the banking and insurance sector also, Italian institutions hold important positions.
This positive dynamic is reflected in a substantial volume of foreign direct investment (FDI) by Italy in Russia, which amounts to almost 10.7 billion euros (2018 data). Russian investments in Italy (especially in the energy and steel sectors) are also very significant, with a stock of FDI of 1.5 billion euros in 2018, which are often channelled through various financial centres that are ultimately attributable to Russian investors (Bank of Italy data).
Italy and the Russian Federation work together in the context of numerous cultural projects aimed at fostering mutual knowledge among peoples and civil societies.
On 4th July 2019, on the occasion of President Putin's visit to Rome, the new Executive Programme of cultural collaboration for the next three years 2019-2021 was signed, aimed at promoting collaboration between institutions and bodies of the two countries in the fields of education, culture and art, protection of cultural heritage, cinema, archives, libraries, publishing, radio and television and the media, sport and tourism. There will be exchanges of visits by teachers and researchers, scholarships for language courses, bilingual sections in the respective high schools, exchange of scientific publications.
2019 saw important opportunities to enhance the Italian-Russian cultural partnership, through the promotion of a more inclusive strategy capable of making Italian art accessible even in the most distant places from the capital. Suffice it to mention the great success of the exhibition in Vladivostock of Sandro Botticelli's painting "Madonna della Loggia" from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, on the occasion of the first Italian participation in the Eastern Economic Forum.
Particularly dynamic is the sector of youth exchanges, which every year allow a significant number of Italian students to spend a period of study in Russia and vice versa. On a musical level, the innovative exchange programme for Italian and Russian young musicians and opera singers, launched by the Embassy thanks to a private donation, has also become very important.
In Russia, the interest in the Italian language is growing. Italian is taught at all levels of the Russian school system. In recent years there has been the success of the PRIA program – Programme for the dissemination of the Italian language in Russia – which provides for the teaching of our language in over 120 institutes in the country and the development of relations with the Italian language departments of Russian universities. The Equal Italian School "Italo Calvino" and the Committee of the Dante Alighieri institution in Moscow have increasing success.
At the "Scuola Superiore 136" in Moscow there is a bilingual Italian-Russian section, which allows to obtain, at the end of the course of studies, a qualification recognised by both countries for the purposes of enrolment in university.
Among the main collaborations between Italian and Russian cultural institutions, it is worth mentioning the one with the Pushkin Museum, which has led to the creation of exhibitions that have made it possible to present some of the most significant Italian works of art to Russian viewers. The Centro Scientifico e Culturale Ermitage Italia also collaborates with the State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg.
The bilateral cooperation in the scientific and technological field between Italy and Russia is based on the Agreement for Scientific and Technological Cooperation signed in Rome on 1st December 1995 and in force since 1999. Cooperation with Moscow is particularly active in the fields of physics – both theoretical and nuclear, also for medical applications – space, radiobiology, radio-medicine and chemistry.