ROME — Vladimir Putin called for the strengthening of ties between Moscow and the EU during an official visit to Italy on Thursday — and called on the prospective new European Commission chief to help make that happen.
“Ursula von der Leyen’s role will be key to determine the shape of future relations between us and the EU,” the Russian president said during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
“Russia-EU relations must be developed on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” Putin said.
The Russian president said his country was being asked to make an extra effort to solve the conflict in Ukraine but “we can’t be handed the full responsibility […] the other parties involved should also do their part.”
Von der Leyen, in her role as German defense minister, has been a critic of Russia’s role in Ukraine.
“We must lay the ground to improve the dialogue between the EU and Russia, which isn’t beneficial for either party, or for Italy,” Conte said.
Putin also said he was “very thankful” to the Italian government for being in favor of the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia.
Earlier on Thursday, Putin told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that Rome and Moscow “have a special relationship, tested by time.” He also spoke fondly of his relationship with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, “with whom we’ve had constant contacts since 2014.”
The 12-hour day of meetings for Putin was due to wrap up with a gala dinner hosted by Conte. The Russian leader also met Pope Francis at the Vatican and had lunch with President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace, and was scheduled to meet his old friend Silvio Berlusconi. “Silvio is a global-level politician,” Putin told Corriere della Sera in the interview.
To mark the occasion 50 streets in Rome’s city center were closed off to traffic and hundreds of police officers patrolled the city.
Earlier this week, Italian government staff repeatedly tested driving a copy of Putin’s limousine into Conte’s Chigi Palace residence because of concerns that the six-meter-long Aurus Senat was too wide to get through the gate.