The Berlusconi-Putin Project

berlusconi041808.jpgFollowing Wikileaks, Julia Ioffe has a good round up published in The Daily Beast of the bromantic adventures of Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin, from pretending to shoot journalists at press conferences, hanging with Jean-Claude Van Damme to watch extreme fighting, and all around debauchery to the tune of a several-hundred-million dollar business relationship.

In 2006, after the Russian state-owned gas behemoth Gazprom, had begun to build two crucial pipelines to fill in the energy vacuum in Europe, Russia needed a partner for the southern branch (called South Stream). It found a perfect collaborator in–you guessed it–the Italian Eni, a company that has a bigger staff in Moscow than the Italian embassy itself. According to the Rome cable, the company funds most of Italy’s think tanks and allegedly has several journalists on its payrolls. And Eni’s director has more access to Berlusconi than the Italian foreign minister. Two years after the deal between the companies had been signed, Eni was singing Gazprom’s tune. “ENI’s view of the European energy situation was disturbingly similar to that of GAZPROM and the Kremlin, and at times laced with rhetorical flourishes reminiscent of Soviet-era double-speak,” says the cable.

Berlusconi’s personal financial interests also appear to be a critical factor in the mix. According to Russian and Italian press reports, when Gazprom set about finding an Italian partner to deliver its gas to Italy, they picked Central Energy Italian Gas Holding, owned mostly by Gazprom’s subsidiaries. One third, however, belonged to one Bruno Mentasti-Granelli, widely believed to be a stand-in for Berlusconi’s financial interests. (The deal was later scuttled by a major outcry, but apparently there is now a quiet effort underway to put it back together with the help of some conveniently located intermediary companies.)