San Marino, religion and agri-food sector will renew economic relations with Russia

San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe (after the Vatican and Monaco) and the fifth in the world.[1] From the point of view of Political and Economic Studies, San Marino is one of the most interesting case studies: an authentic piece of Middle Age survived to the passing of time. After more than seven centuries, the Republic has survived any type of epochal upheaval of Modern Age: the Napoleonic wars, in which refused the territorial extension offered by the revolutionary France; the Italian Independence Wars;[2] fascism, to which, however, showed some sympathy, and also the Allied bombing, that hit this state despite the formal neutrality of the Republic of Mount Titano.[3]

Even with its small army, San Marino does not engage in a real war since a very long time, a choice dictated by an international political strategy that often led to excellent results, ensuring the independence of the state over the centuries: being a small state is synonymous of impartiality and political autonomy. This axiom and a good foresight – and luck – in its internal and international politics have enabled the small Republic to preserve its autonomy despite the constant pressures from Rome – especially during fascism – and other major international powers.[4] After World War II, the situation is slightly changed: from 1944 to 1957, San Marino has been ruled by leftist governments very close to the Soviet Union’s positions, leading to the beginning in this period of good relations with Russia. In the same years, San Marino had also recognized the People’s Republic of China, even when the UN seat was occupied by the Republic of Formosa. This proximity to the so-called “Second World,” ended abruptly as a result of the events of Rovereta, when a provisional government was established in opposition to the communist one of San Marino. The Rovereta government was strongly supported by Rome and the United States, who allowed the creation of autonomous armed militias in support of their cause, which greatly contributed to increase the tension within the territory of San Marino. Although they have never run out definitively, relations between San Marino and Russia improved after the final collapse of the Soviet Union and reached their peak in 2011.

When the relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation were peaceful, in San Marino the first – and unfortunately the last – “Italy-Russia-San Marino Congress” was organized,[5] in order to reflect from cultural, economic and political points of view on the excellent relations between the three countries, which have been characterized by strong affinity, especially when the capital of the Russian Empire was St. Petersburg. Many intellectuals, professors and politicians from all three states took part in this initiative, which was never carried out, due to the deterioration of relations between the European Union and Russia.

Until the application of sanctions against Russia – unwanted by European leaders, but strongly pushed by the US government,[6] Russian tourism was the driving economic force of San Marino and of the whole Romagna. It can easily be determined which were the decisive factors of this successful economic cooperation: the setup of a direct flight from the Rimini/San Marino airport to the one of Domodedovo, very favorable economic trends in the Russian economy, the fascination of Russians for Italian territory, products and culture, and a deep sense of religion that binds the Orthodox to the figure of Saint Nicholas, a precious relic of whom is preserved in the Church of St. Nicolò al Porto. All these elements have led to an incredible increase of Russian tourists visiting to Rimini and San Marino, which have overtaken the Germans as main touristic nationality in this region. This has also brought considerable consequences on the territory: the demand of fluently Russian-speaking employees has increased significantly and this has become the second most widely used language on the menus of restaurants, in shops and even by tourist guides.[7] However, something has changed in recent years and although San Marino is still an independent enclave in the European Union,[8] there is an obvious correlation between the changes of Russia-San Marino relations and those between the EU and Russia. In fact, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the imposition of sanctions against Russia and the economic crisis due to the excessive decline in oil prices have dramatically changed the economic and political scenario of relations between Russia and San Marino, showing a certain functional weakness, despite their substantial authenticity remains unequivocally.

In recent years, Russian tourism in the Rimini/San Marino area has practically halved, creating significant damage to tourism and, consequently, to the economy, influenced for more than 50% from the first one.[9] The embargo hitting Italian products – especially in agro-food sector – has created extensive damage to Italian economy and the one of San Marino. From a political point of view, relations between San Marino and Russia have slightly deteriorated in the occasion of referendum in Crimea, when the Secretary of State for Foreign Relations, Pasquale Valentini, has not shared the Russian line;[10] another episode that did not improve the relations between Russia and San Marino is the formally recognition by the latter of Kosovo, while it has just circumstantial relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In foreign policy, the positions of San Marino are often similar to those of many Western countries, also because San Marino presents a geographical weakness, which strongly influences its international politics. Being an enclave in Europe, San Marino is very conditioned by bilateral agreements with Italy, that strongly bind the business sector of both countries. Although economically and politically very tied to European dynamics, San Marino is not forced to comply with EU directives and regulations, so its refusal to adopt the sanctions against Russia helped to keep still good relations between the two countries.

Economic scenarios in the next future seem to be very interesting: since 2015, there are rumors about the role of San Marino as an economic hub for all those European agricultural industries, which exported their products in Russia before sanctions. These rumors arise from the fact that San Marino has been the only European country to participate in the World Food Fair in September 2015, and the CIS States International Economic Forum, held last March, that opened a great opportunity for San Marino to increase exports of its food products to the Federation, giving a potentially strong contribution to the economic recovery of the small state.[11] However, we can exclude the interpretation given by the majority of commentators and analysts, according to which this attitude of the Republic of San Marino is a way to “cheat” the sanctions and the embargo on European products,[12] emulating the policies implemented by Belarus, who has not been hit by sanctions and/or embargo of any kind.[13] In fact, all the authorities of San Marino have always denied this intention, ensuring that the economic contacts with Russia are only and exclusively in favor of companies of San Marino. After all, it is impossible to disagree with this kind of political attitude: a possible trade war with the European Union will choke San Marino much more than a similar case with Russia.

Although it remains a faithful ally of EU, San Marino (and others small states, like Andorra and the Principality of Monaco) remains a major cultural, economic and touristic partner of Russia; when the relations between Europe and Russia are shaky, many economical possibilities open up for these small states, whose economy is expected to grow in 2016, precisely because of the current geopolitical conjecture.

References and notes

[1] “San Marino,” World Atlas.

[2] Following the failure of the Roman Republic, Garibaldi and 2,000 soldiers were chased by the Austrian and papal armies. They took refuge in San Marino with the promise to maintain its independence in the future. See: Rondelli, Paolo (2011). “Qui venne l’Eroe” 1849: lo scampo di Garibaldi a San Marino preludio all’Unità d’Italia,” Storia e Futuro 27.

[3] United States Department of State (1944). “Foreign relations of the United States diplomatic papers, 1944. Europe,” Volume IV, U.S. Government Printing Office, pp. 290.

[4] Legend says that the independence of San Marino is due to the testament of the Saint namesake after having founded a Christian community on Mount Titano, dying he said, “I leave you independent from both men.” See: “Storia della Repubblica di San Marino – la Leggenda del Santo Marino,” Storia di San Marino.

[5] This initiative was organized by the Pan-Europe Foundation San Marino, the International Cultural Association “Identità Europea” and the authorities of the Republic of San Marino. See: “I rapporti Italo-Russi nel periodo delle grandi potenze.(1861-1914),” Identità Europea, 10 September 2013.

[6] The Secretary of State John Biden pronounced these words during a press conference at Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government – Institute of Politics in October 2014. “They [European States] did not want to do that, but again it was America’s leadership and the President of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up, and take economic hits to impose cost.” See: “USA: Obama forced EU states to impose sanctions on Russia – VP Biden,” Ruptly Tv, 3 October 2014.

[7] During the summer, going to Mount Titano by coach, you could listen a recorded voice that will give you essential information about the history and culture of San Marino. This will speak first in Italian, then in Russian and then in English.

[8] In 2013 a referendum asked to citizens if they agreed about the EU membership of San Marino. This referendum failed because did not reaching the quorum. See: “Risultati relativi al referendum del 20 ottobre 2013 per l’avvio della procedura di adesione all’Unione Europea,” Department of Foreign Affairs – Republic of San Marino, 21 October 2013.–europea/atti-e-documenti-nazionali/referendum.html

[9] “San Marino,”

[10] “Disappunto del Governo per la celebrazione del referendum in Crimea,” Segreteria di Stato per gli Affari Esteri – Repubblica di San Marino, 18 March 2014.

[11] Barducci, Sergio. “San Marino potrà esportare in Russia carni e formaggi prodotti sul Titano,” R-tv San Marino, 18 March 2016.

[12] Bellinello, Lucia. “San Marino, quel ponte con la Russia per aggirare l’embargo,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, 18 March 2016.

[13] This refers to the Parmigiano Reggiano, that with the application of a new label became “Made in Belarus” and exportable in Russia. That was a way for the European companies to cheat the embargo. See: Piper, Elizabeth. “‘Parmigiano-Belarussiano’ and other secrets of Russian chefs under food ban,” Reuters, 10 September 2014.