The Silence of the Ambassador Grigory Pasko, journalist Before we start, imagine the following situation: A person was walking down the street. He was attacked and beaten, and his wallet and gold watch were taken. Then, this watch was put up for sale. A certain Enio was invited to this sale. Enio knew where the watch had come from and how it had ended up being put on sale. But he told himself and others “I have long dreamed of such a watch; my participation in the transaction is purely commercial, no politics involved.” And, he bought the watch. Vittorio Claudio Sudro, Italian Ambassador to Russia I recently approached the Italian ambassador to Russia, Mr. Vittorio Claudio Sudro, and asked if he would answer three questions for me. Here they are:
1. In recent times, certain mass media have been spreading information about how the Italian energy company ENI is interested in buying “Yuganskneftegas”. Then these rumors were even partially confirmed by the company’s management: the chairman of the company’s management board, Vittorio Mincato, declared that he is interested in the Russian market in principle, but under the condition that controlling blocks of shares are acquired or if there will be an opportunity to implement entrepreneurial control. Then ENI’s interest was confirmed in the Italian Ministry of Industry. A representative of this agency likewise declared that Italy has an interest in the purchase of the assets of Russian companies. In addition to this, there is information that «Gazprom» is planning to buy the assets of YUKOS through German banks and Italian companies. How can you comment on this information? 2. As is known, Vladimir Putin had especially warm relations with the former premier of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi – the only political figure in the EU who publicly supported the Russian president in the “YUKOS case”. How does today’s Italian leadership assess Russian policy in the realm of trade in hydrocarbons on the European market? The situation with the sale of YUKOS assets? Do you agree with the point of view that if an Italian company goes forward with a deal with «Gazprom», then it will have to take into consideration all possible political risks associated with the purchase of “Yuganskneftegas”? 3. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved a report on the “YUKOS case” prepared by former German Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. In its Resolution, the Committee noted that the circumstances of the arrest and indictment of YUKOS managers allow one to assume that they had been “arbitrarily selected as targets” in violation of the principle of universal equality of rights before the law. In connection with this, could you give concrete examples of the participation of Italian society and politicians in helping Russia to follow a democratic path of development and observe human rights?
After receiving these questions from me, Mr. Guido de Sanctis, a representative of the Italian embassy in Moscow, promised to get in touch with the ambassador and to answer my questions. However, even after three days, he had neither telephoned me nor answered my questions. I eventually was able to find Mr. de Sanctis and ask him if the ambassador would be able to answer my questions after all. It seems that the embassy counsellor wasn’t expecting such persistence on my part and really didn’t want to talk about this topic. He said literally the following: “Unfortunately, we can not answer your questions, and the ambassador himself said this. Everything is too detailed with you. We do not possess information of this kind and do not know it to such an extent. Call the ENI representative office in Moscow, but I don’t know their number.” I managed to convince Mr. Guido de Sanctis to try and look a bit harder for the company’s telephone number. Surprisingly, he found it quite quickly. I phoned the company, and was told there that only in the Rome office of the company would they be able to answer a question about ENI’s participation in the purchase of YUKOS assets. I phoned a representative of the ENI press service in Rome, Mr. Gianni Di Giovanni, the Head of External Communication. His secretary wrote down my question and asked me to call back later. But Mr. Di Giovanni didn’t pick up the phone later, nor did he pick it up later than that. The telephone of Erika Mandraffino (Financial and International Media Relations) was silent as well. Now I’m getting worried: maybe something had happened to these ENI employees – even long before the sale of the YUKOS assets? A journalist acquaintance of mine who has a good knowledge of Italy, its mentality, the workers of the Italian embassy in Russia, and apparently the principles of Italian politics, told me that I ought to have expected just such a development. “The Italians are very cautious in such matters. They’re afraid of losing profits, even if gaining them is connected with some kind of murky affairs. Someone else might be able to walk away from a shady deal even if it means taking a loss. But not the Italians.” That’s how he explained the situation with the reluctance of the Italian ambassador to answer my questions, which I didn’t think were that complicated at all. (Enio would no doubt buy the gold watch even knowing that it had been acquired in a mugging). …By the way, I did say to Mr. Guido de Sanctis that the ambassador’s unwillingness to answer my questions was also an answer in its own way. But it is hard to understand a position according to which a vague refusal to answer completely innocent questions ensues. Let us assume that Ambassador Vittorio Claudio Surdo really can’t or doesn’t want to know the plans of Italy’s largest oil company. Or he doesn’t want to or can’t comment on the upcoming sale of YUKOS assets (after former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who was the only one in Europe to openly support Putin’s policy in persecuting Khodorkovsky). But why did he refuse to provide concrete examples of the participation of Italian society and politicians in helping Russia to follow a democratic path of development and observe human rights? That doesn’t make any sense. After all, I, for example, know well that many Italians have been deeply moved by the death of Anna Politkovskaya. For them it was the same as the death of a person they know very well, their next-door neighbor or someone who lives across the street. For them, it has already been clear for a long time just who Putin is. I don’t understand, does the Italian ambassador knows about this? But then another thing is understandable: why the mass media are interested in ENI’s possible participation in the purchase of YUKOS assets. Because many regard the point of view of certain experts, according to which any bank, any company, anywhere in the world, should avoid participating in something that is an egregious and systematic violation of human rights, lest they find themselves in the expropriation business. There are grounds to assume that ENI might go forward with a deal together with «Gazprom». It is known that last year, «Gazprom» and Italy’s ENI had signed a strategic partnership agreement. Within the framework of this agreement, «Gazprom» will extend the term of current contracts for the delivery of gas to Italy from 2017 to 2035. In addition, it will get the opportunity starting next year to implement direct deliveries of gas to Italian end users; the volume of these will rise to 3 billion cubic meters by 2010. In addition to all this, analysts are noting the likelihood that ENI will take joint part with «Gazprom» in the acquisition of YUKOS’s oil-and-gas assets, which will very soon be put up for sale at auction. The Italians are hoping to be invited as contractors on the development of the gigantic Shtokman field. On top of that, ENI, which not that long ago took part as a subcontractor on the construction of «Gazprom’s» “Blue Stream” pipeline to Turkey, is apparently counting on an expansion of cooperation in this promising area. …Enio has long dreamed of a gold watch. Even if it is stolen.