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We want to show Russian tourists an Italy they may not know, says Emma Bonino

We want to show Russian tourists an Italy they may not know, says Emma Bonino

Russian President Vladimir Putin begins his official visit to Italy today. On the eve of the visit, noted European politician and Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino agreed to this exclusive interview with RIA Novosti correspondent Sergey Startsev.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin begins an official visit to Italy today, during which he will be meeting at the Vatican with Pope Frances, and in Rome with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and UN Special Envoy for the Sahel region Romano Prodi. On Tuesday the Russian President will be in Trieste for an Italo-Russian intergovernmental summit and talks with Italian Premier Enrico Letta. On the eve of the visit, noted European politician and Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino agreed to this exclusive interview with RIA Novosti correspondent Sergey Startsev.

The intergovernmental summit between Italy and Russia will be held a few days from now in Trieste. In your opinion, what is significant and special about this event, considering that both parties have long asserted the existence not only of excellent relations but of a true strategic partnership as well?

The intense and ramified relations that Italy maintains with countries such as Russia require regular high level encounter for the purpose of verification and impetus. The summit will be an opportunity to seal understandings both of an inter-State and well as a private nature. Over the past three years, as a result of political and electoral contingencies in both countries, high level consultations aimed at examining all aspects of bilateral economic relations, ranging from energy to industrial collaboration and from infrastructure to defence, have not taken place. Premier Letta and President Putin will have the chance to compare notes on major international issues of common concern, particularly the Syrian crisis, and on Euro-Russian relations, which it is well known are not going through their best phase. Summit participants will also include a great many ministers, bearing witness to the depth and dynamism of our relations.

Finally, I wish to underscore the importance of a third component, the civil society, with the re-launch of the Dialogue Forum in a new version that includes encounter among journalists and analysts in Rome, and one among business persons in Trieste in the margins of the summit. The Dialogue Forum is the ideal setting for open encounter also on the social dynamics taking place in both of our nations.

It is already known that next year is to be proclaimed the year of Italo-Russian tourism. What in your view are the goals of this initiative?

The main goal is to increase tourist flows in both directions. Italy is a country much loved by Russians, and the rate of growth in the number of Russian tourists here is among the highest. Nevertheless, we believe there is even greater potential to be tapped in those lesser known historic cities and villages, nature sites and “alternative” destinations that make up 90% of what we have to offer. Suffice it to mention that Italy is the country with the largest number (49) of UNESCO World Heritage sites and 80% of those are located outside traditional tourist itineraries – to cite a few examples: Siena, Ferrara, Urbino, Modena, Pisa, Mantua, Assisi and many others. We are going to be offering a series of new itineraries across this lesser known Italy, including orthodox religious sites, the “hidden trails” of the Touring Club Italia and the Fondo Ambiente, in the footsteps of great Italian artists known to Russians (Titian, Verdi, Fellini, Lorenzo Lotto) and of the Russian writers and artists who lived at one time in Italy (Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Gorky).

In order to facilitate those flows, we have also had a policy of tourist visa simplification in place for some time now that makes their issuance faster and more efficient. In the first ten months of 2013, Italy issued 660,000 visas, up 22% as compared with 2012, with peaks of 65% in St. Petersburg. One quarter of the total are multiple visas, with an increase of 150% over 2012.

Additionally, for the year of tourism, the Italian Consulates General will be issuing visas free of charge to tour operators, journalists, children up to 12 years of age and participants in important cultural events in Italy that will be identified by the national organisational committee, and similar initiatives are being reviewed for the 2015 Milan EXPO.

It is common knowledge that the positions of our two countries on many major international problems are often close, if not the same. How would you assess collaboration between Italy and Russia in the international arena? Do you see prospects for the future expansion of those relations, and in what context in particular?

Consultation with Moscow is intense and detailed both at political and high institutional levels. We maintain continuous encounter not only on the Syrian crisis, which is the current priority, but also on themes regarding areas such as Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East peace process. I wish also to point out that in Trieste we will be approving the launch of regular consultations also on responses to global threats, an area of obvious importance for both out countries. Not to mention our traditional convergence on positions in matters of UN Security Council reform, on which we maintain continuous dialogue both in our capitals and in New York.

We intend to use our EU presidency in the second half of 2014 to contribute to a decisive re-launch of Euro-Russian relations, and the premise for doing so is that of verifying Russian positions in detail along with the margins for compromise in regard to numerous open issues.

The Syrian crisis is one of the foremost items on the international agenda. It was noted in Moscow that Rome refused to support the idea of a military mission to Syria without a corresponding UN decision. How would you assess Russia’s efforts toward resolution of the Syrian crisis and what could be a political solution for achieving peace in that region?

The Russo-American agreement on chemical weapons was a turning point that we all deeply appreciated. And today both our countries are engaged in contributing to the international process of dismantling that arsenal. Like Russia, Italy too believes there is no alternative to a political solution to the crisis, and therefore supports efforts toward convening a Geneva 2 conference. We are certainly well aware of the difficulties that this path is sure to entail, but the international community cannot but embrace it resolutely.

It is important, however, that, while policy is discussed, the millions of Syrian refugees living in seriously difficult conditions are not forgotten. I am certain that Russia will also have a prominent role in a more rapid humanitarian response, utilising all possible channels being offered by UN agencies.

You have more than once expressed concern over the situation regarding the Greenpeace activists’ actions against a Gazprom oil platform, concerns made even more understandable given the involvement of an Italian national. A few days ago, he and the majority of the other participants were released on bail. How do you feel it will be possible to resolve this situation?

The decision to release Christian D’Alessandro on bail was a significant gesture in the interests of resolving this problem. We now expect months of preparation by the judiciary authorities to produce a ruling, but Christian D’Alessandro’s quality of life will undoubtedly be better than it has been thus far. It is my hope that the Russian judiciary is able to conclude their inquest rapidly. The charge of hooliganism, with a possible 7-year prison sentence, seems disproportionate to me, given the activists’ actual deeds and intentions. My hope, therefore, is that the judges absolve Christian D’Alessandro.

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