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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin and Prodi Seal Power and Plane Deals

Itar-TassPutin and Prodi sharing a lighter moment during talks in the Italian resort of Bari, where the president also visited a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.
Russian and Italian political and business leaders signed a series of accords strengthening their economic ties Wednesday, including deals for building an airliner and for developing nuclear power projects and a railway system.

The talks, including visiting President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, were held in the Adriatic port city of Bari.

"This is the best proof of the strategic partnership between Italy and Russia," Prodi said during a joint news conference with Putin.

Putin was set to travel to Athens later Wednesday for the signing of a long-delayed agreement Thursday to build a pipeline from Bulgaria to Greece.

Prodi said Rome and Moscow shared the vision of a multilateral approach to world crises, including in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan, and said the two leaders also discussed Russia's human rights record, amid allegations of human rights violations under Putin's tenure.

Russia and Italy see eye to eye on the situation in Iran, Iraq and Serbia's Kosovo province in that they want a peaceful solution for the crises there, Putin said at a news conference. "What unites us is a desire to find a peaceful solution for these problems," Putin said.

Prodi said the talks touched on issues of freedom of press, expression and human rights, Interfax reported, giving no further details.

Italian power supplier Enel said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency on developing electricity and nuclear power projects in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.

Other agreements included one between Italy's defense company, Finmeccanica, and Russian Railways to develop a regional train along the Black Sea coast joining the cities of Tuapse and Adler; and one for the joint construction and marketing of a medium-range civilian plane known as the Superjet 100.

The Moscow-based conglomerate Sistema has shown interest in buying a minority stake in Telecom Italia from Italy's Pirelli. Finmeccanica's Alenia unit and Russia's biggest warplane maker, Sukhoi, will sign a deal to build Superjet 100 regional jets jointly over 20 years.

Prodi stressed the importance of the Sukhoi deal. "It is the last opportunity for Italy and Russia to become leading players on the civil aircraft market," he said, Interfax reported.

Italy is Russia's third-largest commercial trading partner, after Germany and China, with Russian-Italian trade in 2006 totaling more than 21 billion euros ($27.68 billion).

Putin and Prodi said in a statement that they wanted talks between Moscow and the European Union on a new strategic partnership agreement, blocked over a Russian ban on Polish meat, to start as soon as possible.

Officials from both countries also agreed to open a northern Italian branch, in Ferrara, of the State Hermitage Museum, which is located in St. Petersburg.

Putin, who met Tuesday with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, was received with military honors in Bari, where about 1,500 residents lined the streets around the central Piazza della Liberta to greet the Russian leader.

During his stay in Bari, Putin also visited a church in the city that is reputed to hold the remains of Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop of Asia Minor revered by both the Western and Orthodox churches, and signed a visitors' book.

"Let's hope this visit results in something good, like jobs for young people," said student Antonio Buttiglione, 20, who waited for three hours in hopes of getting a glimpse of Putin -- without luck.

Security was tight. Officers from the state police, paramilitary Carabinieri police and others worked overtime.

Snipers lined the rooftops along the half-hour ride from the airport to the city center, and police helicopters escorted the Russian delegation.

Members of Prodi's center-left coalition urged the Italian prime minister Tuesday to address with Putin allegations of human rights violations in Russia, including attacks on journalists who write about corruption, Chechnya and other sensitive issues.

"Nothing has been clarified or even reported about the deaths of some journalists who have repeatedly denounced the massacre of Chechens by Russian soldiers," a Radical Party statement said.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 journalists have been killed in contract-style murders since Putin took office in 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, a Kremlin critic who was shot dead in Moscow in October.

In Rome, Chechnya's former health minister, Umar Khambiyev, who has reportedly sought political asylum in Italy, held a news conference with Radical Party leaders during which he denounced human rights violations in Chechnya. "Italian politicians must tell the truth about the situation in Chechnya and especially the situation regarding human rights," Khambiyev was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

In Bari, Putin said Khambiyev could return to the war-torn republic if he supports peace. Prodi said he was unaware of any asylum requests from Khambiyev.

In Bari, about 150 people -- mostly young communists -- demonstrated against Putin in a square next to the one where the meeting was being held.

Franco Venturini, an expert on Russia, urged the Italian government not to remain silent on human rights, even in the face of economic interests. "There is ... a duty to be true to principles that are not negotiable," he wrote Wednesday in a front-page editorial in Corriere della Sera.

AP, MT, Reuters