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Italy seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian gas

A refinery of the Eni oil and gas group, in Taranto (southern Italy), on March 9, 2022.

It only took a few hours for the machine to get going. On Monday February 28, barely four days after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, was in Algiers, accompanied in particular by the CEO of the Italian energy giant Eni, Claudio Descalzi, to begin a international tour of the main gas suppliers of the country. The objective of this delegation? Take stock of the possibilities of additional deliveries, estimate Italy’s room for maneuver on the energy front and, above all, the possibility of new contracts, while many voices were calling for a halt to supply contracts Russian gas companies.

“We must protect Italian businesses and families from the effects of this war,” argued the head of Italian diplomacy, at the end of his meeting with the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, illustrating the new absolute priority of Farnesina (the Italian equivalent of the Quai d’Orsay). Subsequently, the prospect of an immediate halt to deliveries receded somewhat, but the effort of Italian diplomacy did not stop. On March 6, the same delegation visited Qatar, then, on March 12 and 13, it went to Congo and Angola, always with the aim of identifying ways to diversify its supplies.

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Two years after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which in a few days had seen the entire Italian diplomatic staff turn into a gigantic purchasing center, which went in search of masks and respirators, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs transformed in no time into an energy broker, with the usual mixture of imagination and pragmatism that characterizes him.

A fragile situation

On the subject, Italy has a lot to do. In fact, natural gas represents 40% of Italy’s energy needs, and 40% of it is of Russian origin (a proportion that has continued to increase in recent years). In other words: of the 76 billion cubic meters consumed in Italy in 2021, around 30 billion came from Russia.

Privileged after the oil crisis of 1973, gas was initially seen, along with nuclear power, as the best means of not depending solely on the oil-monarchies of the Gulf. But Italy quickly turned its back on the atom, abandoning civilian nuclear power in 1987, in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, and once again rejecting by referendum, in 2011, the opening of new power plants. It is therefore forced to import a little more than 10% of its electricity (largely from French nuclear power plants), which clearly shows that, for the time being, the Italian situation is extremely fragile.

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