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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Italian red carpet for Putin

By David Willey
BBC correspondent in Rome

Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin in Genoa 2001
The two leaders are due to discuss closer Russia-EU ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived on the Italian island of Sardinia to spend the weekend at Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's luxurious retreat.

The Italian media magnate is laying on two evenings of musical entertainment for the former KGB agent at his seaside villa on the island's Emerald coast.

In return, the Russian president is expected to invite Mr Berlusconi to a reception on board the flagship cruiser of Russia's Black Sea fleet, lying at anchor in a nearby bay.

The two leaders are due to hold informal discussions on possible ways of associating Russia more closely with the European Union - something that not all EU members look favourably on.

Friendlier atmosphere

This summer Mr Berlusconi, currently president of the EU, is using his sumptuous villa - overlooking the crystal clear waters of one of the Mediterranean's most beautiful bays - as the setting for a new style of informal international diplomacy.

He has created an exotic new cactus garden in the grounds of his La Certosa villa to show off to his Russian guest and has invited the Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, to sing at an evening party.

Escort ship off Sardinia
Putin is to be accompanied by three warships
The billionaire Italian leader prides himself on being on intimate terms with many world leaders. Last year he invited President Putin's two teenage daughters to stay at his villa.

By inviting the Russian president into one of his many luxury homes, Mr Berlusconi feels he can create a friendlier and more intimate atmosphere than at any official government guesthouse.

Next week the prime ministers of France and Spain will receive the same VIP treatment.

Meanwhile, three Russian warships have arrived at the secluded harbour of La Maddalena, not far from Mr Berlusconi's villa, which has been used by the Americans for over four decades to service their nuclear submarine fleet.

An American naval supply vessel usually at anchor there has tactfully withdrawn while three warships from Russia's Black Sea fleet pay the highest profile Russian naval visit to Italy for more than half-a-century.

Italian treat awaits Putin
28 Aug 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi 'almost a German'
04 Aug 03  |  Europe

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