Italy says Syria endgame to shape EU-Russia ties


ROME: Italy’s new prime minister sees European Union relations with Russia being “defined” by unfolding events in Syria and a Donald Trump-led United States as his top ally on the global stage.

Paolo Gentiloni, the successor to Matteo Renzi, told parliament on Tuesday that this week’s summit of European Union leaders in Brussels would focus on Syria, where Russian-backed pro-government forces had reportedly executed civilians in the final stages of the battle for control of Aleppo.

“A crisis that is defining relations between the EU and Russia will be discussed at a time of transition for the American administration,” the former foreign minister said ahead of Thursday’s summit, which he is expected to attend.

Gentiloni, 62, added: “I take the opportunity to say that we stand ready to collaborate with the country that has always been our principal partner, the United States, on the basis of our principles.”

The remarks on Russia could be seen as significant because Italy has lately been amongst the most dovish of EU countries on relations with Moscow.

Rome notably aired reservations about the utility of sanctions imposed over the Kremlin’s conduct in Ukraine, although it has never broken ranks from the common EU position.

Business as usual

Gentiloni was speaking before a parliamentary vote of confidence for his new government line-up on Tuesday evening.

The lower house voted in favour of his government by 368 votes to 105, although many opposition groups refused to take part, including the anti-establishment Five Star movement, which walked out before the vote began.

They will do likewise on Wednesday when another confidence vote is taken in the senate.

With the exception of some minor tweaks, Gentiloni signaled in his speech little change of direction from close ally Renzi, who resigned last week after suffering a crushing defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform.

That means that Italy will likely continue to seek leeway on the application of the EU’s budget rules to be able to pursue an expansionary economic policy.


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