President Vladimir Putin will be on the lookout for signs of dissent over European Union sanctions on Russia when he visits Italy on Wednesday, but he is likely to be disappointed.
The Russian leader is due to meet Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Expo 2015 global fair in Milan, two weeks before the EU decides whether to extend the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.
Although Putin can expect a friendly reception, Italy is unlikely to break ranks, especially after G7 leaders warned at a summit attended by Renzi that they might step up the sanctions if violence in Ukraine increases.
But Russia enjoys better relations with Italy than with most of its EU partners. It regards Rome as a reluctant backer of sanctions and a leading proponent of dialogue with Moscow.
Reacting to G7 criticism on Monday, the Kremlin said there were nuances of opinion in the group of industrialized nations, an apparent reference to Italy, and Moscow has sought to exploit divisions over the sanctions.
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