Russia’s Aeroflot to resume talks to acquire Italian carrier Alitalia

April 18th, 2008 - 9:10 pm ICT by admin  

Porto Rotondo (Italy), April 18 (DPA) Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi announced Friday that Russian airline Aeroflot would renew its interest in Italy’s ailing flagship carrier, Aitalia. Speaking at a joint news conference in a Berlusconi-owned villa in northern Sardinia, they also said they had discussed joint natural gas and other bilateral energy projects as well as Russia’s relations with the European Union.

“I’ve called the Aeroflot president who told me they are willing re-establish contact with Alitalia,” Putin said.

Aeroflot was among six companies shortlisted by the Italian government in October 2007 as a potential investor to take control of the state’s controlling interest in Alitalia.

But the Russian airline later said it was no longer interested in Alitalia, while the Italian carrier later entered exclusive buyout talks with French-Dutch airline Air France-KLM.

On Friday, Berlusconi said he welcomed Aeroflot’s renewed interest, but did not rule out the possibility that his future government would approve a deal with Air France-KLM - something he strongly opposed during Italy’s recent election campaign.

“The situation is very open. There are still contacts with Air France. We have nothing against Air France, but we would like to see the creation of an international group with (Alitalia having) equal dignity,” Berlusconi said.

Berlusconi has insisted Alitalia should remain in Italian hands, and last month said a group of Italian investors, who he did not identify, were prepared to launch a rival bid for Alitalia. He made no reference to this bid at the news conference with Putin.

Earlier this month Air France-KLM suspended talks with Alitalia, after rejecting a series of conditions made by unions representing the Italian airline’s employees.

Putin and Berlusconi also said they discussed strengthening ties between Russian natural gas company Gazprom and Italy’s energy giant ENI in “third countries” including Libya which the Russian president visited before arriving in Sardinia.

Russia in its dealings with the European Union knew it would be able “to count on the support” of an Italy under Berlusconi’s future government, Putin said.

Berlusconi said he would work to have visa requirements between the EU’s 27 member states and Russia abolished.

Their talks also explored ways of boosting bilateral economic ties between Italy and Russia, the two leaders said.

Italy is Russia’s “fourth largest trading partner” said Berlusconi, adding however that his country needed to increase the volume of its exports to Russia.

The news conference, which began one hour later than scheduled and came after Putin had stayed overnight at the luxury Villa Certosa, also struck more gossipy topics.

Putin was pressed by a Russian journalist on reports in Moscow that he had divorced his wife Lyudimilla and plans to wed 24-year-old former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva.

“There is not one word of truth,” in the reports, Putin said, adding that the private lives of political leaders should be “shown respect”.

The Russian president, who was on one of his last foreign trips before the end of his presidential term on May 7, was scheduled to depart for Moscow later Friday.

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