Italy: Two-Timing the Seven Sisters

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Not long after he took over Italy's giant state-owned petroleum monopoly E.N.I, last fall, scholarly Marcello Boldrini, 73, closed a deal to buy crude oil from Esso. His move spurred speculation that E.N.I, might be turning away from its Russian oil suppliers to resume a romance with the "seven sisters"-the name that his predecessor, the late Enrico Mattei, used to describe the big Western-owned oil companies. Last week, after Boldrini returned home from a week's visit in Moscow, it was clear that E.N.I, intends to keep right on doing business with the Russians.

Though Boldrini kept mum about his

Moscow negotiations, the betting in Italy is that E.N.I, is working to extend the four-year agreement, which expires in 1965, by which it gets 3,000,000 tons of petroleum a year from Russia. The Russians certainly are not hesitant, since E.N.I, is by far their biggest commercial foreign customer. And E.N.I., which is currently building refineries in seven countries, wants Soviet oil to meet its growing demands. A diversified industrial complex as well as an oil company, E.N.I, has found trading with Russia doubly advantageous because it can barter manufactured goods for oil; 90% of the synthetic rubber from its big Ravenna petrochemical plant went to Russia last year, and so did a wide assortment of its pumps, compressors and other machines. In a little-publicized deal, E.N.I, has also designed and is equipping a combined ammonia-methanol plant in Tula, an industrial town near Moscow.

Actually, Boldrini and E.N.I, have the Russians over something of an oil barrel. With the Esso deal behind him, Boldrini bluntly warned the Russians not to raise the price of their crude, which costs him $1.15 per barrel v. $1.50 for oil from most Western companies. But Boldrini got at least a 20% discount from Esso, and there are signs that Shell and British Petroleum may be ready to do business with him. Obviously Boldrini is applying the tactic, used so masterfully by Mattei, of playing off the West and East to the advantage of E.N.I.