Italy has called for a reduction of tensions between the European Union and Russia. Rome also wants the EU to back a plan to channel EU money to small Russian firms that operate in sectors not covered by existing EU sanctions on banking, defence and the energy industry.

Three diplomats told the Reuters news agency that Italy is also resisting EU proposals to impose sanctions on countries that carry out cyberattacks, in another move seen as being in favour of Moscow.

According to Reuters, the diplomatic push in Brussels coincides with a visit by Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to Russia on October 17, the second since he was sworn in four months ago.

“If we are asked to confirm (the sanctions), we will say no,” Salvini told a business conference in Moscow. “It’s clear that it makes no sense that they are in place.”

But asked if Italy would veto a renewal, Salvini said: “We can only play the veto joker once in Europe.”