Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Syria, and potential energy projects, with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi today (8 January), the Kremlin said.
Last month, Rome briefly held up extending EU sanctions on Moscow. The move was interpreted as further proof of the special relationship between Rome and Moscow.
The two leaders “confirmed the importance of continuing joint work in the interests of realising mutually profitable energy projects” and discussed the “chances for resolving the conflict in Syria” after Renzi called Putin, the Kremlin said in a statement.
“The importance of close coordination of efforts in the fight against international terrorism was underlined,” the statement said.
Sources close to Renzi confirmed the phone conversation, and said the two leaders wished each other Happy New Year, and discussed an overview of the international situation, Italian news agencies reported.
In December, Italy appeared to drag its heels on backing a renewal of European Union sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, briefly delaying a decision to extend the punitive measures to July before it was officially approved by the 28-nation bloc.
Europe’s economic sanctions on Russia, and a retaliatory food embargo from the Kremlin, have hit several key Italian industries.
Rome has also been angered by a German pipeline project with Russia at a time when Berlin has been pushing the rest of Europe to maintain sanctions against Moscow.
Formally known as Nord Stream 2, the pipeline under the Baltic Sea has upset diplomats, who accuse Germany of selfishly seeking a reliable energy supply route with Putin, while South Stream, a similar project to southern Europe, was dropped under EU pressure (see background).
Some European leaders have also looked to bring Russia in from the cold, in a bid to persuade the Kremlin to help resolve the conflict in Syria that has sent streams of refugees heading to the continent.
Moscow has been carrying out a bombing campaign in the war-torn country since September, at the request of its longstanding ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
The West accuses Moscow of bombing groups battling Assad to prop up his regime, but Russia insists it is striking “terrorists” that pose a threat to its own security.
The now-shelved South Stream pipeline was designed to carry Russian gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and via Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia, to Italy. Its main shareholders were Russia’s Gazprom, and Italy’s ENI.
Eni's subsidiary, Saipem, has a licence to lay pipes under the Black Sea for South Stream.
On 1 December 2013, Russia scrapped the South Stream pipeline project to supply gas to southern Europe, without crossing Ukraine, citing EU objections, and instead named Turkey as its preferred partner for an alternative pipeline.
After Russian-Turkish relations deteriorated over the downing of the Russian warplane at the Syrian border on 24 November 2015, word is out that Russia may bring gas at the Bulgarian shore, just as under the South Stream project.