By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) -Italy does not expect supplies of gas from Russia to be cut off, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Thursday, indicating that he believed that Russia had stepped back from a demand for payment in roubles.
“No they are not in danger,” Draghi told a news conference when asked about supplies from Russia, which account for a significant proportion of Italian imports.
Draghi, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Wednesday said that Putin told him that current gas contracts remained in force and that European firms will continue to pay in euros and dollars, rather than in roubles.
“I don’t think the Western countries have done anything except say that it would be unacceptable to pay in roubles, if not impossible,” Draghi told journalists at Rome’s Foreign Press Club.
“I think there has been a process of reflection within Russia that has led to a better definition of what it means to pay in roubles, as President Putin defined it yesterday.”
“What I understood, but I may be wrong, is that the conversion of the payment … is an internal matter of the Russian Federation,” Draghi said.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that “unfriendly” countries will have to buy roubles for the currency stipulated in their contracts for subsequent Russian gas purchases.
Peskov said Gazprombank could be involved in the gas-for-roubles buying scheme, adding that the details of the scheme could be disclosed later on Thursday.
Putin also told Draghi that conditions were not yet in place for a ceasefire in Ukraine or for a meeting between him and Ukrainian President Vlodimir Zelenskiy.
“Zelenskiy’s willingness has always been total to initiate peace, the problem is to see if conditions are found for Russia also to want peace, so far the facts say that there has been no such desire,” Draghi said.
“So far the facts say that it was only the defence of Ukraine that slowed down the invasion and that perhaps today leads to the beginning of a peace process.”
Asked about increased Italian defence spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Draghi said Italy will reach the NATO goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2028, adding that this was not in dispute among members of his coalition.
Media reports this week said the issue was causing tensions in the government a year ahead of national elections.
However, Draghi said that the government’s upcoming economic forecasting document would not spell out a specific increase in defence spending.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Angelo Amante and Gavin JonesWriting by Keith Weir, editing by Giulia Segreti and David Evans)