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Russia's president and Italy's prime minister will meet at the Black Sea resort of Sochi Tuesday
Russia's president and Italy's prime minister will meet at the Black Sea resort of Sochi Tuesday for talks expected to set the stage for interstate consultations early next spring. A Kremlin source said Vladimir Putin and Romano Prodi will gauge the current state of "bilateral interaction in various areas within the context of preparations for upcoming top-level interstate consultations," which, along with the two leaders, will involve cabinet ministers from the two countries. The consultations, due in Italy in March, will be the fourth such event since 2002. According to the source, additional opportunities for Russian-Italian political cooperation are emerging following the Italy's election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from the beginning of this year. The Kremlin source said Putin and Prodi will discuss "Russia's relations with the European Union, activities of the United Nations and its key institutions, developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the situation surrounding Iraq and the African continent." But the main focus of the leaders' talks will be economic cooperation, the source said, adding that Italy is one of Russia's key trade partners in Europe, with last year's bilateral trade estimated at around $30 billion. "A substantial impetus has been given to investment cooperation, which is increasingly becoming a street with two-way traffic," he said. The past two years have seen the launch of several joint Russian-Italian investment projects. Russian steel company Severstal acquired a controlling stake in Italian metals giant Lucchini in the spring of 2005. In the summer of that year, Russia's Evraz bought 75% in the Italian sheet metal producer Palini e Bartoli. And in February 2006, AFK Sistema signed an agreement on the purchase of shares in the electronics-making company Finmeccanica. "A number of promising joint projects are being implemented or considered in high-technology or energy. These include Russian companies' cooperation with Italy's Finmeccanica - projects to build a mid-haul Superjet 100 plane, a federal TETRA-standard mobile communications network, and high-speed trains," the source said. He also mentioned the consortium of Russian utility company ESN and Italy's ENEL to jointly manage the North-West Thermal Power Plant, as well as cooperation between Russian energy giant Gazprom and Italy's ENI under a November 14, 2006 strategic partnership agreement. Kremlin experts call for broader use in Russia of Italian expertise in setting up industrial districts, which bring together small and medium-size businesses involved in the production of one or several types of products. Such expertise has been successfully used in establishing special economic zones in the western Russian region of Lipetsk and in the Volga republic of Tatarstan, as well as in the Moscow Region. Humanitarian and cultural cooperation will also be high on the agenda of the Sochi talks. Some of the most recent examples of such cooperation include collaborative projects between Moscow's Bolshoi Theater and the Milan's Teatro alla Scala, which signed a cooperation protocol in December 2006, and a Civil Society Dialogue Forum, set up to engage the Russian and Italian public into sharing their perspectives on a wide range of issues of mutual concern. The Russian Language Week held in Italy last fall is one of several events organized by the forum.
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