Italy open to supplying air defence systems to Ukraine - official

Italian PM Meloni and deputy PM Tajani attend a swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale Palace, in Rome

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian government is readying a new arms package for Ukraine including air defence systems, a governing coalition official said on Tuesday.

Western nations have been delivering more air defence hardware to Ukraine since President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last month asked the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations for help to stop Russian missiles raining down on Ukrainian cities.

The Italian coalition official, who declined to be named, said Rome was ready to provide Ukraine with a variety of air-defence systems, including the medium-range Franco-Italian SAMP/T and Italian Aspide, as well as portable Stinger missiles.

However, it remains unclear how many of these it could offer or when any shipment might be delivered, the official said.

Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto spoke by phone on Monday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and pledged to support Ukraine against Russia's invasion for "as long as necessary", a statement said.

Italy approved its first weapons delivery to Kyiv late in February, under the national unity government of Mario Draghi. Giorgia Meloni's newly installed right-wing coalition government is preparing a sixth round of supplies.

Meloni is a staunch supporter of Ukraine despite the ambivalence of her coalition allies, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, who both have historically close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rome has never disclosed details of the arms it has sent to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, but Italian and Ukrainian media have said previous shipments included multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), Pzh2000 howitzers and armoured vehicles.

On Monday, Kyiv said it had received its first delivery of NASAMS air defence systems from the United States. French President Emmanuel Macron also pledged last week to boost Kyiv's anti-air defences.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Mark Heinrich)