Draghi’s phone call with Putin shows Italy’s effort to encourage dialogue and avoid crisis

Mario Draghi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone on Thursday as the Italian prime minister aims to find an end to the war in Ukraine.

The last time Draghi spoke to Putin was around two months ago, with the PM calling the Russian president to “speak about peace” in an effort to end the conflict.

While the underlying purpose of Draghi’s call has remained the same, this time, the strategy has changed for multiple reasons.

Draghi spoke to the Russian President to discuss “the ongoing food crisis and its serious repercussions on the world’s poorest countries”, his office said in a statement, an attempt to find a way to free grain exports blocked in Black Sea ports.

In a press conference that followed the call, Draghi said that Putin told him these ports had been mined by Ukrainian forces. Draghi asked Russia to pledge not to attack Ukrainian forces should they be deployed to demine ports.

The two didn’t discuss the question in detail, Draghi said, but the Italian PM spoke of what appeared to be “Putin’s availability to proceed in such direction”.

Draghi said that the “gravity of the humanitarian crisis that could result and that could affect the world’s poorest countries” is what pushed him to act.

With the food crisis hitting African and Asian countries in particular, Italian media have noted that the shortage could impact future migration flows.

Since 2015, Italy has been on the frontlines of a migration crisis that has not yet been resolved, so it’s in the country’s interests to avoid a worsening humanitarian situation.

Reaching a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict doesn’t appear to be on the immediate horizon, but the need to unblock grain exports could help to create an opportunity for dialogue between the two sides.

Draghi said that he would immediately discuss the issue of unblocking grain exports with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

It’s already been discussed with US President Joe Biden and next week, Draghi will brief his European partners about it on the occasion of the special EU Council meeting.

“There are no certainties the plan could work,” said Draghi who added that “the seriousness of the situation is such that we must take risks and try things that could fail.”

So far, Russia’s defence ministry has said it will lift its blockade of Ukrainian ports in exchange for sanctions relief, a suggestion that has been criticised by Western countries.

Draghi and Putin appeared not to discuss the four-stage peace plan proposed by Italy that has so far not been accepted by either Moscow or Kyiv.

But Italy has taken a more proactive role to address the crisis in Ukraine; Draghi has held several key bilateral meetings in the past few weeks.

In a short period of time, he met with Finland’s PM Sanna Marin, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

It goes to show the mammoth diplomatic efforts Italy is putting in place to regain a central role on the global stage.