Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Moscow on Wednesday for talks focusing on efforts to boost economic ties.

Conte, on his first trip to Russia, began talks with Putin in the Kremlin by saying that the two countries have managed to preserve the “quality and volume of our ties.” He invited Putin to visit Italy in the near future.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, centre, attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP)

Ties between Russia and Italy have been badly damaged by European Union sanctions against Russia for its aggressions in Ukraine and by Moscow’s retaliatory moves.

Bilateral trade has slowly increased in recent years as the Russian economy has climbed out of recession, but it still remains a fraction of what it was before EU penalties triggered by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Russian support for an insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, right, attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP)

Several rounds of EU and U.S. sanctions have crippled investment projects. Earlier this year, the Italian energy giant ENI bailed out of a joint project with Russia’s top state oil company, Rosneft, to tap Black Sea oil reserves. ENI was also considering a suspension of another such venture in the Barents Sea, Russian news agencies reported.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP)

“Regrettably, Italy’s niche in the Russian market has decreased but the volume of our economic ties have remained strong,” Putin said as he greeted Conte. “Despite the difficult times, our political contacts have remained on a high level.”

Putin also thanked Italian authorities for providing quick assistance to Russian soccer fans who were injured when an escalator in Rome’s subway system collapsed on Tuesday night.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, second right, attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Sergei Chirikov/Pool Photo via AP)

Earlier in the day, Conte met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who voiced hope that his visit will give a new impulse to Russian-Italian cooperation.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, right, shakes hands with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is holding talks with Russian officials on his first trip to Moscow. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“Italy is a country that enjoys good health, the fundamentals of our country are solid,” Conte said on Facebook after meeting with Italian entrepreneurs in Russia a day after Europe rejected Italy’s spending plans as dangerous to the country’s debt level.

“The government will do its part to make Italian companies grow,” Conte said. “There is a big commitment in that direction, as the measures in the maneuver demonstrate.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, left, shakes hands with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is holding talks with Russian officials on his first trip to Moscow. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

He added the Italian government was “making it easier to invest, thanks to the simplification of bureaucracy and making it more convenient to hire, thanks to tax breaks.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, right, shakes hands with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is holding talks with Russian officials on his first trip to Moscow. (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press

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