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Gentiloni: “Italy cannot close its doors on Russia” (La Stampa)

Minister Gentiloni, it is not so quiet along the European Union’s eastern frontiers: there has just been an EU summit in Kiev, and you are scheduled to be there on Tuesday. The many heads of state expected at the EXPO include Vladimir Putin. At what point is the Ukraine question?

«The situation in Ukraine is very fragile; the accord forged by Merkel and Hollande is holding on the level of the ceasefire, but it was only two weeks ago that agreement was achieved on the definition of heavy weaponry, so as to complete the withdrawal».

What are you going to say to Poroshenko?

«That Italy supports Kiev, and that Kiev must do what is necessary, painful economic and constitutional reforms must include autonomy for Donbass. This is also important because a certain Anglo-Saxon media are painting us as hesitant when, on the contrary, we have always fully done our part. Italy has led NATO patrols in the Baltic skies and correctly applied sanctions on Russia, what’s more paying a heavy price. But we believe that it is essential not to close the doors on Russia».

Let’s go on to Putin’s visit to EXPO. Will he meet with Renzi?

«The date has not yet been set, but surely there will be a meeting. Without pretending that it is possible to go back to a pre-Ukraine crisis situation, it is necessary to keep the channels open with Moscow. The role that Russia already plays in the management of international crises is evident, from the Iranian nuclear accord to the most dramatic crisis going on, that of Syria; and they could also be useful in Libya».

On the other hand, don’t we risk leaving Moscow in the hands of Beijing, to which Putin ran as soon as the sanctions were approved? Does it worry you that the Chinese defence minister has announced joint military exercises with the Russians in the Mediterranean?

«No. It doesn’t worry me. It needs to be taken for what it is: a message. The announcement coincided with Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington, which led to strengthened Japanese-American cooperation, including military. Moreover, there is China’s desire to show their navy is capable of going the distance: they are to place two frigates and a mother ship in the Mediterranean; but a strategic anti-Western alliance between Russia and China is improbable in my view».

After Kiev you will go on to Warsaw – to remind a major northern nation that beyond the Baltic there is also the Mediterranean, the sea of death for migrants?

«The Polish are well aware of that, but there is certainly the risk that each of the EU’s 28 members sees, and tends to deal only with, the crisis in its own back yard».

Apropos of that, wasn’t it a strategic error for Italy to have accepted replacement of Mare Nostrum with the smaller Triton mission, to then have to ask the EU for greater involvement and more money?

«That debate seems to me to skirt the seriousness of the problem. Nothing has changed from one mission to the other if not the theoretical range of operations. Ninety per cent of the migrants continue to be rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard and Navy well beyond the theoretical range of both missions. Those desperate refugees fleeing wars and misery are certainly not capable of measuring the difference between Frontex and other missions. The point is that almost everything rests on our shoulders. Europe has, to share this responsibility and the summit that Renzi called for did produce an initial response».

It’s not going to be enough to stop the boatloads from Libya, against which you have called for a police operation. Will the UN approve that?

«We await an answer from New York; the draft of a resolution proposed by Italy will be discussed over the coming 10 ten days. As with all the issues put to the Security Council, it is not going to be easy. I recently spoke of this in Beijing with the Chinese foreign minister, and noted some openness. We do not consider this the solution, but it is one step closer to stopping the human trafficking; another point, and this one is very complex, is the stabilisation of Libya. UN envoy Bernardino Leon will be holding meetings on Tuesday in Rome with the main Western governments to examine the negotiations. The common feeling is that an accord is needed by the start of Ramadan in mid-June».

Things are no less complex in Europe. The spectre of “Brexit” looms over the elections to be held in the UK on Thursday: if Cameron wins, there is the risk — as even the Economist has acknowledged — of a disastrous UK withdrawal from the EU.

«I agree. An EU without the UK is unthinkable, and would be a disaster for the UK as well. The City is what it is because the English economy is tied to that of Europe; it would be impossible to pull out of the EU and maintain the same force of attraction. As a PD leader, I am rooting for Miliband; but as foreign minister I believe that, whether Cameron or Miliband, whoever is able to form a government must be aware that leaving the EU is not an option ».

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