Italy, Russia, sign deals, agree on Kosovo

Russian and Italian political and business leaders signed a series of accords strengthening their economic ties Wednesday, including deals for building a superjet and for developing nuclear power projects and a railway system.

The talks, including visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Premier Romano Prodi, were held in the Adriatic port city of Bari.

Italian power supplier Enel said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, on developing electricity and nuclear power projects in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.

Other agreements included one between Italy’s defense company, Finmeccanica SpA, and Russian railways to develop a regional train along the Black Sea coast joining the cities of Tuapse and Adler; and one for the joint construction and marketing of a medium-range civilian plane known as the “Superjet100.”

Italy and Russia are aiming to boost their economic ties. Italy is Russia’s third-largest commercial trading partner, after Germany and China, with Russian-Italian trade in 2005 totaling more than €20 billion (US$26.44 billion).

Officials from the two countries also agreed to open a northern Italian branch, in Ferrara, of Russia’s State Hermitage museum, which is located in St. Petersburg.

Putin, who met Tuesday with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, was received with military honors in Bari, where about 1,500 residents also lined the streets around the central Piazza della Liberta to greet the Russian leader.

“Let’s hope this visit results in something good, like jobs for young people,” said student Antonio Buttiglione, 20, who had waited for three hours in hopes of getting a glimpse of Putin, without luck.

Security was tight. Officers from the state police, paramilitary Carabinieri police and others worked overtime. Snipers lined the rooftops along the half-hour ride from the airport to the city center, and police helicopters escorted the Russian delegation.

Members of Prodi’s center-left coalition urged the Italian premier Tuesday to address with Putin allegations of human rights violations in Russia, including attacks on journalists who write about corruption, Chechnya and other sensitive issues.

“Nothing has been clarified or even reported about the deaths of some journalists who have repeatedly denounced the massacre of Chechens by Russian soldiers,” a Radical Party statement said.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 journalists have been killed in contract-style murders since Putin took office in 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, a Kremlin critic who was shot dead in Moscow in October.

In Rome, Chechnya’s former health minister, Umar Khanbiyev, held a news conference with Radical Party leaders during which he denounced human rights violations in Chechnya.

“Italian politicians must tell the truth about the situation in Chechnya and especially the situation regarding human rights,” Khanbiyev was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

In Bari, about 150 people, mostly young communists, demonstrated against Putin in a square next to the one where the meeting was being held.

Franco Venturini, an expert on Russia, urged the Italian government not to remain silent on human rights, even in the face of economic interests. “There is … a duty to be true to principles that are not negotiable,” he wrote Wednesday in a front-page editorial in Corriere della Sera.

In an interview with the Russian agency Ria Novosti, Prodi said Rome and Moscow viewed dialogue and collective efforts by the international community as a way to resolve world crises, including in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two leaders had met Tuesday evening in Rome and discussed international affairs, including Kosovo and Iran’s nuclear program.

Russia has been reluctant to impose tough new sanctions on Iran, but has been moving closer to an agreement with the United States, Germany, Britain and France on a package of measures against Iran.

Prodi’s office said Russia and Italy also would discuss the future of the Serbian province of Kosovo, with a U.N. plan calling for supervised statehood for the disputed province.

The U.N. Security Council is split on the issue. Russia supports Serbia, which rejects the plan. The United States and EU back it.

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