In Moscow, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the possibility of resuming economic bonds. With the prospect of persuading Putin to cooperate with EU labours to stabilize Ukraine, Renzi was open to dialogue concerning “expanding the cooperation” between Italy (who remains Russia’s fourth-largest trading partner) and Putin’s country. This seems to be in Italy’s best interest, since its economy was among the most affected by the sanctions imposed to Russia, given that Italy used to trade in food products and also used to receive large numbers of Russian tourists, which hasn’t happened since the ban policy was adopted. But the United States and the European Union agreed to ease restrictions only if Russia fulfills the conditions of the February peace deal for Ukraine. Although he seems to be on good terms with Vladimir Putin, the Italian Prime Minister tacitly acknowledged the Russian leader’s despotic behaviour when he visited the crime scene where Boris Nemtsov, Putin’s opponent, was shot and killed on Friday night. Matteo Renzi honoured the memory of the dissident by placing flowers on the spot where he died.
The situation remains very strained, since Western countries have kept blaming Russia for supporting Ukraine separatists in Donetsk and Crimea, and Putin has kept denying this accusation. Alexander Lukashevich, Russia’s spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, has contradicted the information according to which Russia sent “thousands of troops” to support pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. However, Russia confirmed that military drills for air defence are being organized in the southwest (near Ukraine). The Defence Ministry provided a figure of 2,000 troops, with 500 weapons systems, and said that the drills would continue for at least a month. Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov declared for Interfax news agency that these exercises are small-scale in comparison to NATO preparations.
Indeed, NATO has sent warships to the Black Sea region, in order to train along with the navies of Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. A NATO official said that military vessels are sent in the region for “maritime awareness and training”. The ships had been scheduled to arrive, in order to offer reassurance to NATO partners in the context of Russia’s unrest.
This is the tightest situation in the history of Russian-American tensions after the Cold War. However, the February armistice is bound to re-establish some order in Ukraine and some cordiality in international ties. The UN Security Council will meet today to assess recent efforts towards a ceasefire in Ukraine.
image source: Deutsche Welle