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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Italy Is Not Just Pasta and A Boot

The boot on the map, spaghetti, shoes, the Mafia and Adriano Celentano.

These are the images that spring to mind when Russians think about Italy, according to a survey conducted ahead of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's arrival Tuesday.

But Berlusconi will have broader matters on his mind when he meets with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. The talks will wind up Wednesday in Moscow.

"This fourth meeting of Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi is a very important event in bilateral cooperation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Saturday, Itar-Tass reported. "The meeting will for the first time involve key ministers from both governments who will discuss the development of cooperation in various areas."

He said the talks will include the clarification of "a number of promising agreements on increasing the stream of Italian investments into the Russian economy." He did not elaborate.

He added that Russia is counting on Berlusconi's support in its drive to closer integrate into the world economy, particularly in regard to its bid for entry into the World Trade Organization.

Berlusconi, in interviews with the Russian press ahead of his visit, emphasized that Italy is Russia's second largest trading partner in Europe after Germany, saying the potential remains for even closer economic ties.

Interestingly, however, the recent survey by the Public Opinion Foundation found that many Russians do not associate Italy with politics or business, forgetting that Italy has been a key trade partner since Soviet days, that it was instrumental in the success of the country's largest carmaker AvtoVAZ, and that at a time when Western imports were all but banned a notable exception was made for Italian furniture.

Instead, the most popular reply from the 1,500 respondents asked what came to mind when they thought of Italy was a "sunny country" that is "shaped like a boot."

Italian goods came in second, with respondents recalling shoes, furniture, wine, home appliances and Fiat. Tourism, resorts and "world famous Mafia" tied for third, followed by spaghetti, pizza and soccer clubs.

Asked who was the most famous Italian, actor and singer Adriano Celentano beat out opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, actress Sofia Loren and artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Russian tourists wanting to explore the boot-shaped country have made tourism one of the most promising industries, according to the Italian Statistics Institute. More than 450,000 Russian tourists visited Italy last year, spending over $500 million. By the end of this year, Italy is expected to become the fourth most popular destination among Russian tourists, up from seventh in 2001.

Trade turnover between Russia and Italy has been steadily increasing over the past four years, jumping from $6.3 billion before the 1998 crisis to almost $10 billion in 2001, according to the Italian Statistics Institute. Russian exports exceeded Italian imports by $3.3 million last year.

Equipment and machine tools accounted for more than 20 percent of last year's imports from Italy, the institute said. Textile and clothing followed at 14.4 percent, while shoes and leather goods accounted for 12 percent, furniture 10 percent and foodstuffs 4.3 percent.

An overwhelming 72 percent of Russia's exports to Italy were in gas and oil. The distant No. 2 export was precious metals at 9.4 percent, ferrous metals at 5 percent and petroleum products at 4 percent.

Italy invested $170 million in Russia last year, making it the ninth largest foreign investor. Italian investment since 1992 totaled $1.514 billion as of the end of 2001, or 4.2 percent of all foreign investment, according to the State Statistics Committee. Germany leads with 17.1 percent, followed by the United States with 15.6 percent and Cyprus with 14.9 percent. Cyprus investment is considered to be mostly Russian capital returning home.

Direct investment from Italy since 1992 has amounted to about $180 million. Most of that investment came from Italian giant Merloni Elettrodomestici in its purchase of the Stinol refrigerator plant for $119.3 million in 2000.

The largest Russian-Italian project is the Blue Stream gas pipeline. Gazprom and Italian gas giant ENI are constructing the $1.7 billion pipeline from Russia to Turkey under the Black Sea.

Russia plans to get $25 billion from deliveries through the pipeline over 25 years.

The second-biggest project is the joint development of the Yak-130 trainer combat jet. Italy will get four of the planes in a swap for $77 million in Soviet-era debt.

Negotiations are all but dead for what would have been the No. 3 project, Fiat's push to produce inexpensive cars at the Siberian Aluminum-owned GAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod. GAZ said in January that conditions have changed in Russia since the project was first announced in 1997 and that the plan was no longer economically feasible.

Fiat played a key role in the development of the Soviet auto industry. Leonid Brezhnev met with Fiat officials after deciding that the country needed to start the mass production of cars in 1965. After that meeting, he decided that the Fiat-124 would be the model for that vehicle, AvtoVAZ's Zhiguli 1, more commonly known as the Kopeika.

That same year the town where AvtoVAZ was based, Stavropol-on-Volga, was renamed Tolyatti after then-head of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti.

Of the more than 1 million new cars sold in Russia in 2001, about 70 percent were made in Tolyatti.