(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s government called on a group of top business leaders to not go ahead with a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as tensions rise over Ukraine.
The government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi made the request due to the current international situation, an Italian official said, asking not to be named discussing sensitive deliberations. The forum, organized by the Italo-Russian Chamber of Commerce, is a private initiative and neither the Italian ambassador to Moscow nor other government representatives were scheduled to attend, the official said.
The event is still expected to go ahead as planned, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a text message. The meeting, which is dedicated to promoting “further development of commercial, economic and industrial ties,” will take place via video conference at 11 a.m. in Rome on Wednesday, said Stefano Maggi, public relations adviser to the organization’s president.
Top executives including Enel SpA Chief Executive Officer Francesco Starace and UniCredit SpA CEO Andrea Orcel are scheduled to participate, even as Russia gathers thousands of troops, tanks and equipment near Ukraine’s eastern border. The U.S. and its allies say the country could be preparing for military action, though Moscow denies it intends to invade its neighbor.
Pirelli & C. SpA Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Marco Tronchetti Provera and Assicurazioni Generali SpA Chairman Gabriele Galateri di Genola are also on the list of attendees, while oil giant Eni SpA and gas network operator Snam SpA declined to participate.
Eni has deep natural gas ties to Moscow, with some 30% of its supplies sourced from Russia. The oil major has partnered on projects with Gazprom PJSC for over 50 years and the two companies are involved in the Blue Stream pipeline which delivers gas to Turkey. Eni is also involved in exploration projects with Rosneft PJSC in the Barents Sea and Black Sea.
Italy also has strong historical links with Russia dating back to the era when Rome had western Europe’s most viable communist party. Since taking office, Draghi has sought to reaffirm Italy’s commitment to the European Union and its alliance with the U.S., after years of tepid support from populist governments.
Still, Draghi has warned that the EU has only limited options for deterring Russian advances toward Ukraine.
“Do we have missiles, ships, cannons, an army? At the moment no,” Draghi said last month. “We Europeans, at best, have some economic deterrents,” adding that “the EU needs to keep engaging with President Putin.”
(Updates with Russian, organization comments in third paragraph.)
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