October 24, 2018 / 4:45 PM / a month ago

Italy PM Conte says EU sanctions on Russia must be overcome

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 24, 2018. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday that EU sanctions against Russia had to come to an end, but declined to say if his government was ready to veto any further rollover of the economic curbs.

Russia has been subjected to European Union sanctions since the 2014 Ukraine crisis and Rome has long urged a relaxation of the penalties on the grounds that they have hit Italian firms trading with Moscow.

The latest round of curbs on doing business with Russian banking, financial and energy sectors were renewed in June but expire at the end of January and are up for discussion in Brussels.

“For Italy, sanctions are never an end, they are an instrument that must be overcome as soon as possible,” Conte said during a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, he declined to say if Rome was ready to veto any sanction renewal. “Italy would like to persuade other European countries that the only way forward is through dialogue.”

Italy is already locked in battle with EU allies over the government’s contested 2019 budget, which the European Commission has rejected, saying it breaks deficit rules.

Financial markets have also reacted negatively to the budget, with bond yields rising to multi-year highs as investors fear for the sustainability of Italy’s debt mountain.

Conte denied a suggestion that he had asked Russia to buy Italian bonds in an effort to calm markets.

“I did not come here to ask Putin to buy Italian securities through the sovereign fund. If a sovereign fund or the central bank were to make such a decision, they would do so because it is convenient, and a good deal,” Conte said.

Reporting by Giulia Secreti; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alison Williams

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