As the Italian government and its allies warned Vladimir Putin against invading Ukraine, the captains of Italy Inc sat down for a cosy meeting with the Russian president. The controversial summit on Wednesday, aimed at expanding corporate ties between Rome and Moscow, may have seemed incongruous. But experts say it highlights Putin's brazen effort to undermine western unity by entangling European firms – and therefore their governments – with Russian business interests they are desperate not to lose. Putin's charm offensive has lured some of the Continent's biggest corporate titans on his side, as well as top politicians including former leaders of Germany and France. Amid a full-blown diplomatic crisis over Ukraine , it is paying dividends. European capitals are split over how hard they should hit the Kremlin with economic sanctions if Putin attacks. John Lough, an associate fellow at Chatham House, says Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas is the most obvious weakness that has been "skillfully exploited". "They’ve courted European energy companies over many years and some of these companies, which are keen to sustain a strong relationship, potentially have a great deal to lose if sanctions are imposed," he says, pointing to firms in Italy and… Read full this story
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