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Italy formally exits China’s BRI

The withdrawal was initially reported by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which stated that Beijing was informed of the much-awaited decision three days ago…reports Asian Lite News

Italy has taken an exit from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, four years after becoming the only Group of Seven (G7) nation to sign up for it.

The withdrawal was initially reported by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which stated that Beijing was informed of the much-awaited decision three days ago. Italy was the first significant Western country to join the project in 2019, despite US worries about China acquiring control over vital infrastructure and technologies.According to an auto-translation of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the formal exit of Rome from the project occurred through the cancellation of the agreement by the Italian government.

China’s Belt and Road.

In the end, after weeks of confidential negotiations and some diplomatic misunderstandings, Italy produced a verbal note, accompanied it with promises of strategic friendship capable of relaunching relations between the two states, and delivered it in Beijing to the Chinese government authorities, the Italian publication Corriere della Sera reported.It is advantageous for both that there was little public announcement of the official cancellation (none of the two countries released a statement).

Beijing is in charge of a project that has partially fallen into financial difficulties.The Silk Road Memorandum was notably signed by then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy and Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 23, 2019, according to Corriere della Sera.

Notably, it was upon taking office last year, that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni stated her intention to pull out of the BRI, citing the absence of significant advantages for her country, Al Jazeera reported.It was earlier in September this year that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had said that leaving the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also known as Silk Road does not compromise relations with China.

According to Italian media, Corriere della Sera daily, it was on the sidelines of the G20 Summit here in Delhi this year, that the Italian PM met Chinese Premier Li Qiang and shared her plan to pull out of the BRI.In the press conference on the last day of the G20 Summit, Meloni turned to talk about the conversation she had with the head of the Chinese government.

“A cordial and constructive dialogue on how we can deepen our bilateral partnership… I intend to keep my commitment to visit China…It makes more sense to go to China when we have more information on our bilateral cooperation and how to develop it,” Meloni said at the conference, according to the Italian media report.”Leaving the Silk Road does not compromise relations, but the decision still has to be taken,” the prime minister assured.

“The Italian government was invited to the Belt and Road Forum, but yesterday we didn’t talk about it,” Meloni said at the conference. (ANI)

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Iran, Russia Unite Against US Sanctions

Earlier, in September, the US imposed sanctions on 37 entities involved in expanding Russia’s energy production and future export capacity and identified two related vessels as blocked property….reports Asian Lite News

In reaction to new US sanctions imposed on Moscow, Iran and Russia have entered into a declaration aimed at overcoming these restrictions, as reported by the Russian news agency TASS, citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday.

“We have just signed a declaration on ways and means to counter, mitigate and offset the negative consequences of unilateral coercive measures. Undoubtedly, this is an important step in increasing coordinated efforts by members of the global community to overcome illegal sanctions, which the US and its allies use as a substitute for diplomacy,” Lavrov said when opening talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

He added that the talks will be used to exchange views on pressing bilateral and regional issues, TASS reported.

“We traditionally have an extensive agenda,” the Russian Foreign minister said.

Earlier, in September, the US imposed sanctions on 37 entities involved in expanding Russia’s energy production and future export capacity and identified two related vessels as blocked property.

According to the US State Department, the designations included entities and individuals involved in the development of key energy projects and associated infrastructure, including Russia’s Arctic LNG 2 liquified natural gas project.

It further included entities involved in the procurement of materials and advanced technology for future energy projects for which Russia has historically relied on foreign service companies’ expertise and technology.

The US State Department designated individuals and entities to impose further costs in response to Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine.

Along with the entities involved in Russia’s Arctic LNG 2 liquified natural gas project, the state designated two Turkiye-based entities for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant, according to the statement by the State Department.

The US also imposed sanctions on Russian banks and President Vladimir Putin. The sanctions are intended to damage Russia’s economy and hold it accountable for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The sanctions targeted individuals, banks, businesses, monetary exchanges, bank transfers, exports, and imports. (ANI)

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UK Researchers to Rejoin Horizon Europe from January 2024

Horizon Europe stands as the EU’s key funding program for research and innovation, boasting a budget of 95.5 billion euros (about $103.48 billion) for the period 2021-2027…reports Asian Lite News

A specialized committee of the European Union (EU) gave a final pass for the UK’s rejoining the Horizon Europe program, the European Commission has said in a press release.

Starting on January 1, 2024, British researchers will again participate in the research and innovation program on equal footing with their EU counterparts, after the EU-UK Specialized Committee on Participation in Union Programs formally approved a new association agreement.

British researchers will also gain access to Horizon Europe funding, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the press release.

Horizon Europe stands as the EU’s key funding program for research and innovation, boasting a budget of 95.5 billion euros (about $103.48 billion) for the period 2021-2027.

Monday’s agreement also gave the green light to the UK’s involvement in the Copernicus component of the Space Program, which is the Earth observation component of the EU Space program, offering information services based on satellite Earth Observation and in-situ (non-space) data.

The UK will contribute around 2.43 billion euros per year on average to the EU budget for its participation in Horizon Europe, and roughly 154 million euros for participation in Copernicus, said the press release. (1 euro = $1.08)

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Heavy snowfall forces cancellation of 760 flights at Munich airport

Not only was the airport affected by the heavy snow, buses, trams and some train services in Munich were also suspended…reports Asian Lite News

Heavy snowfall has led to the cancellation of some 760 flights at the Munich airport in Germany, a spokesperson said.

In a post on X on Saturday, the airport said: “Due to the continuing heavy snowfall, there will be no air traffic probably until 6 a.m. tomorrow, Dec 3. Please do not travel to the airport today and check the status of your flight with your airline before traveling to the airport tomorrow.”

Not only was the airport affected by the heavy snow, buses, trams and some train services in Munich were also suspended, CNN quoted the city’s public transport company as saying.

Munich’s central train station was closed for arrivals, while long-distance services have been suspended entirely, according to Germany’s national railway company Deutsche Bahn.

Deutsche Bahn warned that rail traffic would be “impacted severely” until Monday.

Police on Saturday asked people in the city not to use their cars unless absolutely necessary, while residents of some parts of southern Bavaria were told not to leave their homes at all, a spokesperson for Munich police told CNN.

Bavarian public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk on Saturday reported that the 44 cm of snow in the city was the most ever recorded in December in the Bavarian state capital since records began in 1933.

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Finland closes remaining checkpoint crossing on Russian border

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and Finland’s ascension into NATO, there has been an increasing effort by Helsinki to restrict crossings from Russia…reports Asian Lite News

The last operating checkpoint on Finland’s Russian border will close on Thursday, completely closing off the NATO (North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation) country’s eastern border with Russia for two weeks, CNN has reported.

“Russia is enabling the instrumentalization of people and guiding them to the Finnish border in harsh winter conditions. Finland is determined to put an end to this phenomenon,” Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said in a press release on Tuesday.

At midnight on November 30, the Nordic country will close the last checkpoint, remaining closed until December 13, Finland’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said in Tuesday’s press release.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and Finland’s ascension into NATO, there has been an increasing effort by Helsinki to restrict crossings from Russia, according to CNN.

Finland’s Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in the press release that it is necessary to close the entire eastern border with Russia, adding that the decision was taken to “protect Finland’s national security against this Russian hybrid operation.”

In a post on social media by the Finnish Border Guard, they said, “Finland’s goal is to end the illegal entry from Russia.”

“Finland takes care of its own border security and the Finnish Border Guard is ready to quickly implement new decisions of the Government,” the border guard added.

Finland shares an 830-mile-long border with Russia, one of the few entry points for Russians after many Western countries shut their airspace and borders to Russian planes in response to the Ukraine invasion.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko called the move “irrational” and stated that it would harm Finnish citizens.

“They closed the border, how can we react? Finnish citizens will suffer,” said Grushko on the sidelines of the Primakov Readings forum in Moscow.

“We can comment on some rational decisions, then we can look for some kind of logic. But sometimes the decisions are simply irrational,” he said, adding that only about 700 migrants during this period tried to cross the Russian-Finnish border.

On November 16, in an effort to stop illegal border crossings, the Finnish government announced it would temporarily close four crossing points along the 820-mile stretch of borderland from this week until February 2024.

Illegal crossings have continued despite the imposed restrictions, Finland’s interior ministry said during Tuesday’s press release.

“Since the beginning of August, almost 1,000 third-country nationals have arrived in Finland without a visa via the border crossing points at the eastern border. Most of them have applied for asylum in Finland,” the ministry said.

“In such very exceptional circumstances, the short-term total closure of the eastern border is a necessary and proportionate measure to put an end to this phenomenon and to limit the serious consequences that it has for national security and public order,” the ministry added in the press release.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday accused Russia of using migration as a “tool” to create “pressure” along its border with Finland, CNN has reported.

“We have seen them using energy, we have seen them using cyber attacks, we have seen them using different kinds of clandestine operations to try and undermine our democracies. The fact that Russia is using migration as a tool is now another example of the attempt to put pressure on neighbours,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels.

Stoltenberg said he is “confident that Finland is capable of dealing with” the issue. NATO has not received a request from Finland for support in guarding its borders.

Although he welcomed the move by the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, to deploy 50 guards along the Finnish border.

Helsinki closed its border at the end of September 2022, around the time traffic over the frontier intensified as Russians tried to flee President Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilisation” of hundreds of thousands of citizens to fight in the war. More than 8,500 Russians crossed the border in one day alone.

The Finnish Border Guard has also begun to construct a border barrier fence earlier this year along some of the border, where crossings are rife, CNN has reported. (ANI)

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

Kremlin warns of tensions

Any decision by Finland to allow a “concentration” of troops on its border with Russia would be viewed by Moscow as a threat, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, after Poland offered to send military advisers to help Helsinki police the frontier.

The head of the Polish National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewiera, said in a post on social media X late on Tuesday that Poland would send military advisers to its NATO ally Finland, in response to “an official request for allied support in the face of a hybrid attack on the Finnish border.”

“A team of military advisers will provide on-site knowledge on border security, also in operational terms,” he said.

Finland said on Wednesday it was unaware of the Polish offer. It has closed its entire 1,340 km border with Russia for two weeks in a bid to halt an unusually large flow of asylum seekers that Helsinki says amounts to a “hybrid attack” orchestrated by Moscow, a charge the Kremlin denies.

Asked about the Polish offer to Finland during a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “This is an absolutely redundant measure to ensure border security because there is no threat there.”

“The Finns must be clearly aware that this will pose a threat to us — an increase in the concentration of military units on our borders.”

Any planned deployment would be unprovoked and unjustified, said Peskov.

Finland’s Border Guard and the interior ministry both said they were unaware of any plan to bring Polish military advisers to Finland’s eastern border.

The Finnish foreign and defense ministries and its defense forces did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto held talks with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Warsaw last week but they did not discuss military cooperation on the Finnish border with Russia, Niinisto’s office said in a statement to Reuters.

Finland infuriated Russia earlier this year when it joined NATO, ending decades of military non-alignment, due to the war in Ukraine.

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French PM tells ministers to stop using WhatsApp 

In a ministerial circular, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged ministers and their top staff to deploy the Olvid app on phones and computers…reports Asian Lite News

France’s prime minister asked her cabinet to stop using widespread instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram and install widely unknown Olvid, a product of Paris’s start-up scene presenting itself as a more secure alternative.

In a ministerial circular, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged ministers and their top staff to deploy the Olvid app on phones and computers, her office told Reuters on Wednesday, confirming French media reports.

Olvid, run by two cryptography researchers and backed by several French tech accelerators, will “replace other instant messaging systems in order to strengthen the security of exchanges that may contain confidential information,” the Prime Minister’s office said.

French magazine Le Point earlier reported the circular announcing the move gives ministers a Dec. 8 deadline to replace their messaging apps, citing the prime minister as saying:

“The main consumer instant messaging applications are playing an increasingly important role in our day-to-day communications. However, these digital tools are not without security flaws, and so cannot guarantee the security of conversations and information shared via them.”

Messaging apps like Meta’s WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal have increasingly become the go-to tool of communication in the inner circles of French politics, and government officials also use the apps when talking to journalists. President Emmanuel Macron is said to be an avid user of messaging apps himself.

On its website, Olvid claims to be “the first and only messaging system” that is not relying on any trusted third parties and centralized servers, while also encrypting user metadata.

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EU member states can ban religious symbols in public workplaces

A court in Liege asked the top court whether this strict neutrality rule imposed by the municipality rose to discrimination contrary to EU law…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union’s top court on Tuesday ruled that a public administration can ban staff from visibly wearing any sign that reveals “philosophical or religious beliefs”, in order to create a “neutral administrative environment”, Politico reported.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) said that National courts examine whether the measures taken reconcile freedom of religion with the legitimate objectives underlying that prohibition.

“In order to put in place an entirely neutral administrative environment, a public administration may prohibit the visible wearing in the workplace of any sign revealing philosophical or religious beliefs,” the top EU court said in a statement.

“Such a rule is not discriminatory if it is applied in a general and indiscriminate manner to all of that administration’s staff and is limited to what is strictly necessary,” the statement added.

The ruling refers to the case of a woman from the municipality of Ans in Belgium who took her grievance to a local court, claiming her freedom of religion had been infringed and that she was the victim of discrimination after she was prohibited from wearing an Islamic headscarf in her workplace. After the headscarf decision, the municipality altered its terms of employment to prohibit all workers from wearing overt signs of ideological or religious affiliation, Politico reported.

A court in Liege asked the top court whether this strict neutrality rule imposed by the municipality rose to discrimination contrary to EU law.

The rule “may be regarded as being objectively justified by a legitimate aim,” the court said, but added that an opposite policy authorizing the wearing of religious symbols would also be justified.

“Each member state, and any infra-state body within the framework of its competences, has a margin of discretion in designing the neutrality of the public service which it intends to promote in the workplace, depending on its own context,” the court said.

The court added: “However, that objective must be pursued in a consistent and systematic manner, and the measures adopted to achieve it must be limited to what is strictly necessary. It is for the national courts to verify that those requirements are complied with.”

In October last year, the EU court also ruled that internal laws by an employer prohibiting the visible wearing of all religious, philosophical or spiritual signs at work does not constitute direct discrimination, in a dispute between a Muslim woman and a Belgian company over its headscarf policy, Politico reported. (ANI)

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French Accolades for ISRO Scientist, Indian translator

Ambassador Thierry Mathou awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian honor, to Lalithambika, former Director of the Human Spaceflight Programme at ISRO…reports Asian Lite News

The French government on Wednesday conferred its top awards on Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Dr V R Lalithambika and acclaimed translator and author Dr Arshia Sattar.

For her engagement in space cooperation between France and India, Ambassador Thierry Mathou honoured Lalithambika, former Director, Directorate of the Human Spaceflight Programme, ISRO, with Legion d’Honneur — the country’s top civilian award.

“I am delighted to confer the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur on Dr V.R. Lalithambika, a distinguished scientist and a trailblazer in space technology. Her expertise, accomplishments, and tireless efforts have scripted a new ambitious chapter in the long history of the Indo-French space partnership,” Ambassador Mathou said in a statement.

A specialist in advanced launch vehicle technology, Lalithambika has worked extensively on various ISRO rockets, particularly the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

In 2018, as Director of the Human Spaceflight Programme, she coordinated closely with the French National Space Agency (Centre national d’etudes spatiales – CNES) for India’s Gaganyaan project.

Lalithambika was instrumental in the signing of the first joint agreement for cooperation between CNES and ISRO on human spaceflight, under which the two countries could exchange specialists to work on space medicine.

Receiving the award, Lalithambika said: “I sincerely hope that this honour being bestowed on me will spur more and more women to take up STEM careers and to excel in their chosen fields.”

In 2021, Lalithambika coordinated with CNES for the signing of a second agreement between France and India on the Indian astronaut programme during the visit of the former French Foreign Affairs Minister to ISRO.

Under this agreement the French space agency would train India’s flight physicians and CAPCOM mission control teams in France at the CADMOS centre for the development of microgravity applications and space operations at CNES in Toulouse and at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.

“Dr Lalithambika is an inspiration to the next generation of scientists not only in Toulouse but also in India, where she promoted inclusivity by enabling the recruitment of civilians, including women, to participate in the future of the Indian astronaut programme,” a French Embassy statement read.

Sattar was presented the insignia of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) at a special ceremony at the Consulate General of France in Bengaluru.

The distinction comes in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the field of literature as a translator and a writer as well as her deep commitment to the promotion of literature as director of the literary residency, Sangam House.

“This award honours her continued commitment to cultural relationship and cooperation between diverse literary worlds,” the Embassy said in its statement.

“It is always an important moment when the arts are recognised. It is through the arts that we better understand each other and ourselves. The arts remind us of our shared humanity and in our troubled 21st century, this is perhaps the most significant touchstone – that we are more alike than we are different. I thank the French government for acknowledging that by this award,” Sattar said after receiving the award.

In her career as a translator, Sattar has engaged with the great masterpieces of Indian literature: The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and The Tales from Kathasaritsagara.

In addition to that, she has written several books for children, including The Mahabharata for Children, which was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Prize for Children’s Literature in 2022.

In 2008, she co-founded the literary residency, Sangam House, along with David William Gibson, with the vision of creating a supportive space for writers expressing themselves in regional languages, where they can interact with contemporaries from other cultures and share their perspectives.

Sangam House was the first literary residency of its kind, which has hosted over 200 writers from across India and the world.

It is now a member of the Villa Swagatam network of residencies — an initiative launched by the French Institute in India in March 2023, which consists of 16 Indian residencies spanned across the country, hosting residents in the fields of arts and crafts, performing arts, and literature.

Some noted Indian recipients of the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in the past include actors Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Richa Chadha, photographer Raghu Rai, theatre director Ebrahim Alkazi, playwright Habib Tanveer, and author Upamanyu Chatterjee.

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‘Putin won’t make peace in Ukraine before 2024 polls’

Zelensky has invited Trump, who has said he could end the war in 24 hours if reelected…reports Asian Lite News

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not make peace in Ukraine before he knows the results of the November 2024 US election, a senior US State Department official said on Tuesday, amid concerns that a potential victory for former President Donald Trump could upend Western support for Kyiv.

Trump, who is seeking reelection in 2024 and is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has been sharply critical of US support for Kyiv.

A senior official briefing reporters after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels said the alliance reiterated its support for Ukraine knowing that a peace agreement in the next year is unlikely.

“My expectation is that Putin won’t make a peace or a meaningful peace before he sees the result of our election,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the outcomes of the meeting.

Asked whether they were expressing a personal opinion or the view of the US government, the official said it was a “widely shared premise.”

“That was the context in which the allies all expressed strong support for Ukraine” in the NATO meeting on Tuesday, the official added, without mentioning Trump by name or explicitly saying how the election result would affect support for Ukraine.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has given massive military aid and other support to Kyiv since Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion, but additional funding for Ukraine is being held up by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this month invited Trump, who has said he could end the war in 24 hours if reelected, to Ukraine to see the scale of the conflict for himself.

Russia has never refused talks, says Putin

Earlier, Putin had said that Moscow has never refused peace negotiations with Kyiv and blamed Ukraine for pulling out of the negotiation process. He called military actions a tragedy for people and stressed that the world must think about how to stop this tragedy.

In his virtual address at the G20 Leaders Summit, Putin said that some of the leaders in their speeches said that they are “shocked by Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine.”

Putin said, “Of course, military actions are always a tragedy for people, families, and the country as a whole. And, of course, we must think about how to stop this tragedy.”

“By the way, Russia has never refused peace negotiations with Ukraine. It is not Russia, but Ukraine, that has publicly announced that it is withdrawing from the negotiation process. And moreover, a decree was signed by the head of state prohibiting such negotiations with Russia,” he added.

Putin emphasised that the situation in the world requires collective and consensus decisions that reflect the opinions of the majority of the international community, including developed and developing nations.

He said, “Now the situation in the global economy and in the world as a whole requires collective, consensus decisions that reflect the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the international community–both developed and developing countries.”

“The world is undergoing processes of radical transformation. New powerful centres of global economic development are emerging and strengthening. A significant share of global investment, trade and consumption activity is shifting to Asian, African and Latin American regions, where the majority of the world’s population lives,” he added.

He stated that the first ships with free Russian grain had been sent to Africa. He stressed that the turbulence in the markets is increasing. Putin noted that the world economy is experiencing a “direct consequence of the ill-conceived macroeconomic policies of some states.”

“Turbulence in the markets is increasing. Chronic problems in the international financial sector, energy and food security are worsening. By the way, Russia fulfills all its obligations in this area and remains one of the largest food exporters. And today, I want to inform you that the first ships with free Russian grain have been sent to Africa, for example, to countries in need,” he said.

Putin said that “unlawful restrictions” on trade for the sake of strengthening their own competitiveness continue to have a negative impact. He also spoke about the explosion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system.

The Russian President said, “Unlawful restrictions on trade and the biased-climate agenda of some countries for the sake of strengthening their own competitiveness continue to have a negative effect.To eliminate competitors and gain advantages, unfair methods of competition are also used.”

He further said, “I mean, in particular, not only the destruction of transport and logistics chains and international payment channels, but also acts of state terrorism. A blatant example of this is the explosion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system, laid along the bottom of the Baltic Sea.”

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Ukraine Takes Step Towards EU and NATO

A bilateral agreement on the security commitments to Ukraine by Italy will be based on the Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine adopted by the G7 in July…reports Asian Lite News

Ukraine and Italy have launched consultations on providing security guarantees for Kiev, the Ukrainian presidential press service said.

A bilateral agreement on the security commitments to Ukraine by Italy will be based on the Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine adopted by the G7 in July, it added on Tuesday as quoted by Xinhua news agency report.

The provision of the commitments will be an important step towards Ukraine’s membership in the European Union and the NATO, said Ihor Zhovkva, the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office.

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