Rome, 5 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today criticized his natural resources minister for threatening to revoke exploration licenses for the country's largest oil producer, Yukos. Putin said such a move would give the impression that the state was trying to shut down the company. Prosecutors have already frozen a major stake in Yukos belonging to former CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who was arrested on fraud charges last month.
Putin made the comments while speaking alongside Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during a visit to Rome.
Earlier, in talks with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Putin praised strong cooperation between Russia and Italy, citing Italy's support for a Russian proposal for visa-free travel between Russia and the EU.
Putin said his summit tomorrow with EU leaders will be an important step in the development of Russian-EU relations.
"We believe the [EU-Russian] summit opening tomorrow in Rome will be an important step in achieving the strategic goal of rapprochement between Russia and the European Union," Putin said. The president later met Pope John Paul II.