Russian, Italian leaders concludes three-day visit to Russia

Italian Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday concluded a three-day visit to Russia that included a series of meetings with President Vladimir Putin.

Much of the discussions at the presidential compound in the Black Sea resort of Sochi apparently focused on increased economic cooperation. Bilateral trade between Russia and Italy increased by 55 percent in the first half of this year, Russian officials say.

Putin said after talks with Berlusconi on Monday that Russia was interested in opportunities such as the natural gas monopoly Gazprom investing in Italian projects, informs the AP.

Berlusconi and his wife, Veronica Lario, arrived at Putin's Bocharov Ruchei residence on Sunday for a three-day visit, which began with a sunset walk along the beach with Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, and Putin showing Berlusconi his new pony.

On Monday, both leaders talked up economic ties between their countries, while Putin asked Berlusconi to let Gazprom invest more heavily in Italy as it prepares to expand in Europe's liberalizing gas markets.

"It is in our interest that our companies, including Gazprom, are allowed to invest extra money in Italy's energy sector, including in the gas distribution network," Putin said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Berlusconi, meanwhile, has lobbied hard for Italian energy companies to win contracts in Russia. According to Forbes magazine, Berlusconi was Italy's richest man in 2004, with personal assets of $10 billion. He was 30th-richest person in the world, the magazine reported.

According to The Moscow Times, Gazprom and ENI jointly own a gas pipeline to Turkey under the Black Sea, known as Blue Stream, and Putin said the two firms should push ahead with a plan to boost throughput to its designed capacity of 16 billion cubic meters per year as well as with a plan to re-export gas from Turkey to other markets.

Berlusconi said Russia and Italy were continuing a dialogue about cooperation in a broad range of economic sectors, including telecommunications, mobile security systems and the aerospace industry.

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