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Italy's foreign minister concerned by seizure of UniCredit assets in Russia

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani expressed concern at a meeting on Monday about a Russian court's decision to seize securities, accounts and property amounting to 5% of bank UniCredit's assets in the country.

The meeting brought together representatives from UniCredit and various Italian ministries, as well as of Italian companies with operations in Russia.

"We want to safeguard in every possible way the interests of our companies still operating in Russia," Tajani said in a statement.

After Austria's Raiffeisen, UniCredit is the European bank with the biggest presence in Russia. Both face mounting pressure from euro zone supervisors to cut their business there.

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On Friday UniCredit's Russian arm was hit by the seizure of assets worth 463 million euros ($503 million) in relation to an aborted gas project for which the banking group had provided guarantees.

UniCredit is expected to appeal the decision. It had previously tried a jurisdictional defence which the Russian court rejected.

Last month the Russian subsidiary of Italian water heating company Ariston was placed under the temporary management of an entity owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom following a decree by President Vladimir Putin.

Tajani said he was worried by a second instance of a Russian decision hitting the assets and property of an Italian company, and would call similar meetings every time the situation in Russia warranted cooperation between institutions and companies.

"Our goal is to listen, help, assist and protect the interests of Italian companies to ensure they can continue operating," Tajani said, without providing further details.

In addition to UniCredit's, the arbitration court in St Petersburg has also seized assets of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank in a case brought by RusChemAlliance, a joint venture 50% owned by Gazprom.

Western sanctions against Russia triggered by the Ukraine war have stopped German contractor Linde from completing works to build a plant for RusChemAlliance and the project's guarantor banks from meeting the Russian firm's payment claims.

($1 = 0.9204 euros)

(Reporting by Valentina Za in Milan and Angelo Amante in Rome; Editing by Jan Harvey)