Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prodi Heads to Sochi for Talks on Energy

President Vladimir Putin praised growing energy ties Tuesday as he met Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in the Black Sea port of Sochi -- the latest visit to Russia by a European leader since a damaging interruption to Russian oil exports, news reports said.

"We are working increasingly effectively in sensitive and important spheres for the whole of Europe, one of which is energy," Putin told Prodi, Itar-Tass reported.

"I am confident that our recent agreements on exports of Russian energy products to Italy create additional guarantees for both suppliers and consumers," Putin said, Interfax reported.

Prodi's visit, his third to Russia since becoming prime minister in May, was likely to include discussions on Russia's role as Europe's dominant energy supplier.

Disruptions of Russian gas and oil supplies to Europe in the past year have stoked fears in European capitals that Moscow is an unreliable partner. A dispute between Russia and Belarus interrupted part of Russia's oil deliveries to the EU earlier this month.

The two leaders also discussed Putin's plans to visit Italy this spring, Interfax reported.

"We have dwelled at length on preparations for international consultations, which will take place in Italy this spring," Putin said after the meeting with Prodi, Interfax reported.

The two leaders will sign a "solid portfolio of documents" at the upcoming meeting, Putin said. The Russian leader also said artists from Italy's La Scala would be among the first to perform on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater once its reconstruction is completed.

Although Prodi and Putin appear to have cordial relations, the Russian leader had a particularly close relationship with Prodi's predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, who was considered one of Putin's closest European allies.

Bilateral trade between the two countries reached $30 billion last year, according to the Kremlin.

"Italy is one of Russia's leading European partners [and] relations ... are of truly partnerlike, trust-based nature that are developing progressively in all fields," Putin's foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.

Italian oil and gas giant Eni is one of the main investors in a pipeline to pump Russian natural gas under the Black Sea to southern Europe, and the company has sought an oil exploration and production deal in Russia.

Other Italian companies that have sizable investment projects ongoing in Russia include aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica, which is participating in the Russian Regional Jet project, a government-backed effort to develop a fleet of small jets and bolster the struggling aviation industry.

In remarks made in Sochi before the meeting with Prodi, Putin said he was less optimistic than some ministers about the campaign to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"I don't share your optimism," Putin told Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Interfax reported. Gref, who is the federal government's point man for the bid, told Putin on Tuesday that "everyone has been working smoothly" to promote Sochi's bid for the games.

(AP, MT)