Italy’s Economic Woes to Bring Russia Closer?

Yesterday Bob sounded off on the election of Silvio Berlusconi as Italy’s prime minister for a third term – despite what the New York Times describes as his “shockingly meager achievements in office.” Now there’s this bit from RFE/RL which speculates that Italy’s stagnating economy could drive Berlusconi to think up some innovative uses of his “special relationship” with oil-and-gas rich Vladimir Putin:

But economics is likely to play a major role in Berlusconi’s calculations. Italy’s economy is stagnating and many expect the country to head into a recession. Which is why analysts think Berlusconi will emphasize his special relationship with energy-rich Russia. During his last tenure as Italian premier, Berlusconi forged close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, defending Moscow’s actions in Chechnya and building close economic links with Russia. And Putin will be the first foreign leader Berlusconi welcomes, when the two men meet for talks in Sardinia on April 17.

The Russian leader will have just arrived from Libya — a major oil and gas supplier — and the two men will have much to discuss. Russia, which supplies more than one-quarter of the natural gas consumed in the EU, has been seeking to consolidate its position by striking new deals with North African suppliers, like Algeria and Libya.ENI, the Italian oil and gas corporation, is heavily involved in Libya, so the possibilities for a joint deal to supply Europe are clear. Last week, the heads of ENI and Gazprom met in Moscow to discuss just such a tie-up. ENI and Gazprom are already cooperating on the South Stream pipeline project in the Black Sea. Russia has made no secret of the fact that it sees the route as an alternative to the EU’s competing Nabucco project, intended to relieve the bloc’s dependency on Russia.Berlusconi’s deal-making with Putin is sure to give the EU — which is trying to forge a common energy policy and wean itself from dependence on Russian energy — a major headache. And it’s also making Russia’s neighbors — such as Ukraine — wary.