The Foreign Minister explains the Italian position and the priorities in the crisis on Europe’s doorstep
“The end-point in the Ukrainian crisis must be Russia’s return to its role of global, responsible international partner. And the only way to achieve that is to keep the diplomacy channel open. Russia itself has an interest in being a global player. It’s vital for that to remain on the horizon: managing the complexity of today’s world through systems of cooperation, not conflict, is the only option”.
Federica Mogherini “hit the ground running”. But she doesn’t hide the fact that she loves her new jobs “Foreign policy has always been my passion”, says the Foreign Minister. In just 3 weeks she has experienced the whole range of international relations: bilateral, multilateral, emergency summits, international conferences.
Minister Mogherini arranged to meet us in a café near her home, in Rome’s Prati neighbourhood. Probably to reconcile her job with her role as mother: just an hour after the interview, for which she wore jeans and a sweater, we saw her out walking, without a security escort, with her two daughters.
Minister, can you give us an up-date on Italy’s position in the Ukrainian crisis, in light of the latest developments?
“Italy has followed 4 priority channels. The first was for the international community to speak with a single voice, especially in the European Union, where we sometimes struggle to have a common policy line. On Ukraine too, it took us some time to figure out together the true extent of the crisis, starting with the Association Agreement. If we had done that in the previous months, seeking to ensure it was compatible with the Ukraine-Russia customs agreement, events might have gone differently.
But now the fact is that an unequivocal political message is reaching Moscow from the EU and other international fora – the UN, G7, OSCE, Council of Europe. The message is thatinternational law cannot be violated without provoking comment and reactions. What we need to concentrate on now is how to provide real help to Ukraine to try to prevent the country from dividing along ethnic and language lines. We need to provide help in the democratic process, economic help and help with governance reforms, starting with the anti-corruption law. And last, but by no means least, help with managing ‘good neighbour’ policies, first and foremost with Russia.
The idea of Ukraine as a link between Russia and the EU might seem surreal at this stage, but it is and remains necessary. Kissinger spoke of the Finnish model. And yes, that might be the road to follow, the way out. Along with Germany and France, we’ve always stressed the need to keep the dialogue open”.
What mistakes did the West make in its dealings with Russia in the 25 years following the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the USSR?
“There were mistakes on both sides. However, I think the general line followed by the EU and NATO, that of partnership,wasn’t mistaken…”.
I’d objectwhere NATO’s concerned.
“Now it’s important to establish how NATO will be involved in this crisis. We need to be very cautious as to the timing and opportunities for Atlantic partnership processes. It’s reassuring that the new Ukrainian government has said that NATO membership is not on the cards. That was a wise political signal”.
What moves do you expect Moscow to make? The word from NATO insiders is that Putin won’t stop at Crimea.
“A military escalation in other parts of Ukraine must be avoided at all costs. The point is: do we stop to figure out possible moves by Moscow, or do we try to put in place political instruments to pave the way for positive scenarios? Do we give Putin all the cards and wait to see how he plays them, and then react? Or do we try to engage Russia in returning to the path of dialogue and cooperation?
That’s why today’s [23 March 2014] meeting between Kerry and Lavrov is important. As is the mission by 100 OSCE observers, decided in agreement with Russia. It’s a very strong signal that also opens up channels between Moscow and Kiev, another key element in the diplomatic process. A large number of observers on the ground will help prevent a process of reactions and counter-reactions that could cause the situation to precipitate”.
But differences in tone remain between the western and European partners. How much are legitimate economic interests with Moscow influencing Italy’s cautious approach, and that of others too?
“I’ve said more than once that our foreign policy stance is not based on mutual economic relations, legitimate as they may be. We’re living through a period of world history where we must be able to manage crises, challenges and opportunities together. We have strong economic relations with Russia, but the reverse is also true”.
Moreover, and Prime Minister Renzi has said this too, we’re one of the biggest importers of Russian energy but we’re also one of the countries that can do without it, as we have immediate alternatives at our disposal. The true point is to accept that we’re all interconnected. If we embarked on a path that involved burning our bridges, then we’d be heading for a world that was impossible to govern and to manage”.
Is the suspension of the preparations for the G8 meeting in Sochi a first step to ending that format?
“It’s one thing to say that right now the conditions aren’t right for a G8 meeting, and quite another to say that it’s finished. That is not the case. It’s not practicable for the 8 to meet right now, but in a few months time it might be very useful. I repeat, our goal in this crisis is to return to the G8 format in the fullest sense because that’s the only forum where we talk and work directly with Russia. We need to keep the G8 going as a forum where Russia can once again behave as mature and great country”.
At the nuclear summit in The Hague, you’ll be seeing the Indian Foreign Minister. What will you say about the marines?
“After our phone conversation, I’ll reiterate that our government does not recognise Indian jurisdiction in this case. I’ll say that we’ll continue to seek the internationalisation of the case, with the involvement of the United Nations and the European Union”.