Italy sees Russia as both cyber threat and valuable trade partner

Italy is the EU’s second biggest exporter to Russia, selling $7.46 billion worth of goods to Moscow in 2016, or 1.7 percent of all its exports, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. Meanwhile, it imported $11.2 billion in goods from Russia in the same year, or 2.8 percent of all Russian exports.

“We want relations with a commercial partner,” Trenta said. “I am not saying partner like ally, but a partner, a stakeholder, an actor, that is important also for our economy . “We cannot say that Russia is not an economic partner.”

At the same forum, CNBC spoke with former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, who testified to the increasing Russian-Italian trade links.

“Even despite the sanctions, we’re increasing our trade with Europe — Italy trade increased, trade turnover went up 20 percent last year, 11 percent in first six months of this year,” he said on Friday.

European and American defense officials have repeatedly called Russia’s hybrid measures and “malicious activities” — including cyberattacks and the spreading of misinformation to disrupt foreign elections — one of their greatest security threats.

The leading parties of Italy’s new government, the populist and anti-establishment Lega and Five Star Movement (M5S), have long advocated an end to Western sanctions on Russia and supported fostering closer relations with the Kremlin.

In response to a NATO warning to leave sanctions on Russia as they are, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said in early June that his government planned to continue building ties with Russia and would not take orders from others. He later stated that his administration would “not be spineless and yielding to the will of other states.”

NATO partners pledged in July to spend 2 percent of their respective gross domestic product on defense. So far, only five NATO members do so, and Italy is not one of them.

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