December 16, 2015 / 8:14 AM / 2 years ago

Italy PM Renzi says Russian sanctions to be reviewed in coming months

ROME (Reuters) - Europe and other Western countries are likely to review and revise their economic sanctions against Russia in the coming months, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks during the "Rome 2015 MED, Mediterranean dialogues" forum in Rome, Italy, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Italy has significant economic ties with Russia that have been damaged by tit-for-tat sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and has pushed for Western nations to engage with Russia to overcome differences.

Last week it unexpectedly blocked an automatic rollover of sanctions by the European Union, saying the matter required further discussion.

Renzi, who attends an EU summit later on Wednesday, made clear in an interview with Italian radio that he did not intend to prevent a further six-month extension to the sanctions as already agreed.

But he repeated he expected a full debate next year. “It’s clear that we have the same position as the entire international Western community... but I think that this package of sanctions will be reviewed, not in the next few hours but in the coming months,” Renzi said.

The Italian word he used for “reviewed” can also mean “revised” or “overhauled”.

The EU and United States imposed sanctions on Moscow after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and its subsequent support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

European leaders are likely to discuss the matter at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday, and EU and Italian officials have said they do not expect problems in renewing the sanctions that expire at the end of the year for another six months.

Renzi said Italy had pushed for Western nations to engage with Russia and seek to overcome recent differences.

“Finally our position that we must renew discussions with Russia has prevailed. America and Russia are now finally talking again,” he said.

Diplomats have said Italy has linked the extension of sanctions on Moscow to a debate of a Gazprom gas pipeline project. Rome declined to comment on the issue.

Italy is annoyed over the demise of South Stream, a Russian project to circumvent Ukraine and supply gas to southern Europe, which could have benefited Italy, but was dropped last year after Russia cited difficulties with EU law.

Reporting by Steve Scherer and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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