Italy’s embattled PM Draghi visits Algeria for gas talks

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is visiting Algeria’s capital to finalize deals boosting Algerian gas supplies to Italy amid growing fears that Russia will cut off gas to Europe

ByThe Associated Press

July 18, 2022, 3:11 AM

ALGIERS, Algeria — With his government’s fate in limbo, Italian Premier Mario Draghi is visiting Algeria’s capital Monday to finalize deals boosting Algerian gas supplies to Italy as Europeans brace for a possible cutoff of Russian gas.

In a sign of the importance of the visit, the Italian delegation includes the foreign minister, interior minister, justice minister and ecological transition ministers. They’ll hold a day of talks, meet with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and sign joint agreements.

Algeria is set to displace Russia as the main supplier of gas to Italy, after a major agreement was reached during a trip by Draghi to Algeria in April between Algerian energy giant Sonatrach and Italian company ENI to increase gas exports. EU countries have scrambled to diversify energy sources after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Monday’s trip comes at a precarious time for Draghi, who had to cut it a day short because of political troubles at home. A main partner in his pandemic unity government, the populist 5-Star Movement, boycotted a confidence vote in the Senate last week on an energy costs relief bill, jeopardizing the survival of the 17-month-old government.

The political turmoil forced Draghi to reduce his Algeria visit from two days to just one.

Amid concerns that payments for Russian gas and oil are funding President Vladimir Putin’s war, Europe is trying to cut its reliance on Russian natural gas imports and prepare for a potential Russian cutoff in reprisal for EU sanctions.

Prior to the war, Russia provided Italy about 29 billion cubic meters of gas per year, compared with about 23 billion from Algeria. Already this year Algeria has delivered 13.9 billion cubic meters to Italy via the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline, a 113% rise over forecasts, according to Algerian energy giant Sonatrach. Algeria on Friday announced a 4 billion cubic-meter increase in planned supplies for the months ahead.

Italy is especially dependent on natural gas to generate electricity, heat and cool homes, and power its industry. Italy has also been reaching out to other energy-producing nations to secure alternate sources, including Azerbaijan, Qatar, Congo, Angola and Mozambique.

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