Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi took part in the opening ceremony of an Indesit washing machine plant in Lipetsk (a regional center 400 kilometers to the south of Moscow). The plant was built by Merloni company. The two leaders examined the production line and saw the production of the first washing machine.
The decision to build the new enterprise in Lipetsk, where Merloni owes the Stinol refrigerator plant, was made in February 2001.
The plant will assemble washing machines, which parts will be produced and delivered from abroad.
While inspecting the production line, the Russian President asked about the technological specifics. He wondered if Russian components are used on the line.
According to the plant director, the line is Italian but some plastic details are produced in Russia. Since June most components will be produced in Lipetsk and its neighbor Lebedyan.
All in all, 200,000 washing machines are to be produced in 2004, 400,000 - in 2005 and 1 million in 2006. About 1,000 people work at the plant.
The investments into the plant's construction and equipment are worth over $40 million.
By 2006 Lipetsk can turn into Europe's largest consumer electronics area annually producing 2.5 million refrigerators and washing machines.
Merloni has become the third European producer of consumer electronics in the 25 years of its existence. Today its share on the European market of consumer electronics is 14%.
The company presents refrigerators, cookers, washing and dish-washing machines of the Ariston, Indesit and Stinol brands on the Russian market.
Today Merloni company controls 36% of the Russian consumer electronics market taking into account the share of the Stinol brand purchased in 2000.
Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi also visited the Italian refrigerator plant in Lipetsk. The two leaders attended three workshops and talked to workers, who said they like working at the Italian plant. They also spoke to Merloni owner Vittorio Merloni.
The plant manufactures 17 models of refrigerators and freezers of the Stinol and Indesit brands. In 2003 1,172,800 refrigerators were produced at the plant.
The production volume is about 10 million rubles. About 4,555 people work at the plant. Their average wages are 7,377 rubles ($1 is equal to 28.8 rubles).
The Russian President and the Italian Prime Minister are expected to give a joint press conference.
In addition, Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi will observe show flights of the Russian aircraft at the military airfield in Lipetsk.
Pilots of the Lipetsk combat aviation training center will perform aerobatics on the newest fighters.
On March 20, 2000 then-acting Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to Chechnya on the Su-27 of the Lipetsk center.
The Lipetsk combat aviation training center was formed in 1953 on the basis of the aviation training courses. In the late 1990s the center was named after the legendary Soviet pilot Valery Chkalov.
In the evening the Italian Prime Minister is to leave Lipetsk and return to Italy.
After that, the Russian President will meet with governor of the Lipetsk region Oleg Korolyov.
Meanwhile, Silvio Berlusconi asked the Russian President's assistance for the release of Italian hostages in Iraq, Italian media reports.
The premier wants Russia to involve contacts of its special services in Iraq, Foglio newspaper said on Wednesday.
According to Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian hostages should not be only released but also treated like five Russians and four Ukrainians, who were kidnapped after the Easter and set free at once.
Three Italians are held as hostages in Iraq today.
All in all four Italians were taken hostages by the unknown Green Dragon group (Iraq). Later one of the hostages was killed.