Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is off on a working visit to Italy today.
While in the Italian capital he will be received by Italian President Carlo Ciampi and chairman of the government Silvio Berlusconi and will also have a meeting with House of Deputies speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini.
He is also scheduled to talk with Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister.
Alexander Yakovenko, an official Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said ahead of the visit that in the course of negotiations the sides would discuss implementation of accords reached during the state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Italy in November 2003.
The talks will also focus on agreeing important bilateral events planned for this year, including an official visit to Russia by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and a regular meeting of the Russian-Italian council on economic, industrial, monetary and financial cooperation.
The ministers will pay particular attention to the strengthening of Russian-Italian coordination of efforts in European affairs with a view to asserting in Europe a climate of equal partnerly relations, including in connection with possibilities opening up by new mechanisms of cooperation - the permanent Russia-EU Partnership Council and the Russia-NATO Council. The sides are planning to adopt a joint document on mutual understanding between the foreign ministries of Russia and Italy.
A separate subject of negotiations and discussions by Lavrov in Rome will be a further deepening of economic cooperation with Italy. In volume of trade turnover Italy today ranks second among Russia's West European partners. Recent years have seen new important advances in this sector, whose follow-through will make it possible to improve the quality of bilateral economic ties. This applies above all to the realisation of Berlusconi's idea to set up industrial estates in Russia drawing on Italian experience, and to new opportunities for cooperation in outer space and high technologies.
The sides will also discuss priorities in cultural and humanitarian cooperation. One of key projects for the immediate future is a joint exhibition called "Russia-Italy Through the Centuries" to be held in October-December 2004 in Rome and in February-May 2005 in Moscow.
The ministers will discuss settlement in Iraq and in the Middle East. It is also planned to touch on separate aspects of the situation in the Balkans, around Iran and North Korea.
Apart from meetings with the Italian leadership, the Russian minister will also meet Angelo Sodani, the secretary of state of the Vatican.
The planned meeting is of particular interest in view of a statement made by Vatican representatives that the Pope intends to hand to the Russian Orthodox Church the miracle-working Kazan icon of the Mother of God, which has for many years graced his personal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.
The ceremony of passing the shrine to representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate will be held on August 28, at the Orthodox festivity of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin.
The icon is a copy of the holy image found outside the walls of the Kazan Kremlin in the 16th century. The original had mysteriously disappeared shortly before the revolution of 1917, and still has not been found.