Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Milan, where the two leaders were attending the Expo 2015 international fair.
Underlying Italy's differences with Russia over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, Renzi spoke of “divergent positions” between the two countries on some issues, while praising their “traditional friendship.
"We are in a difficult international situation, not just on account of issues which do not unite us, but also for issues which should see us ever more on the same side in an international scenario which is very complicated, starting with the global threat of terrorism,” he said.
At a summit earlier this week, the Group of Seven developed nations, including Italy, reaffirmed sanctions imposed against Moscow for it actions in Ukraine.
The U.S. and its Western allies have accused Russia of supporting the insurgency in eastern Ukraine with arms and troops. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations, saying that Russians fighting along side separatists there are volunteers.
For his part, Putin said on Wednesday that Italy “has been a great partner in Europe and great investor in the Russian economy.”
President Putin meets with Pope Francis later on Wednesday.
The pope has deplored the loss of life in eastern Ukraine and has called on all sides to implement the cease-fire agreement reached earlier this year in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, said Wednesday that the United States would like to see the Vatican more forcefully convey its concern about the situation in eastern Ukraine during the pope's meeting with Putin.
The cease-fire agreement signed in February requires both sides to withdraw heavy weapons from the line of contact, but international observers have regularly reported violations of the truce deal's provisions.
More than 6,400 people have been killed since April 2014, when fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine.
Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.