Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have discussed strengthening ties in the energy sector.

The two leaders met at one of Prime Minister Berlusconi's villas in northern Italy.  Afterward, Mr. Berlusconi said they discussed issues of international concern and a nuclear energy research project.

Berlusconi said one of the projects that was signed is very important because it could mark a new frontier for nuclear energy, where energy is not produced by fission, but fusion.  The project, he added, could change the scenarios in the production of energy for future generations.

Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Putin also discussed increased cooperation between Russia's Gazprom and Italy's Eni.  The two companies cooperate in the South Stream natural gas pipeline that will exit Russia under the Black Sea and enter the European Union via Bulgaria to carry 63 billion cubic meters of gas a year when it comes online in 2015.

Mr. Berlusconi said South Stream will guarantee that important countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Italy will not be left in the dark or in the cold. Italy, he added, imports 30 percent of its gas from Russia and around 23 percent of oil imports.  So Russia is an important supplier.

In a separate agreement between the two countries, Mr. Berlusconi thanked Russia for the decision to donate funds to help reconstruction efforts in earthquake-devastated l'Aquila, in particular the church of San Gregorio Magno.

Thanks to these funds, he said, the church will be able to be completely restructured and made even more beautiful than at the time of the quake.

Russia agreed to donate $10 million to help reconstruct the church and a palazzo, both of which were seriously damaged by the quake last year.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to visit the Italian prime minister since the Italian conservative won a third term in the 2008 elections.

The two leaders have always had a very good relationship and during a press conference, Mr. Berlusconi described his relations with the Russian prime minister as one marked by "respect, friendship and affection."