1. Honourable Alfano, you have already visited Moscow a few times as Foreign Minister. What is the reason for your visit this time?
My visit to Moscow falls within the scope of a broader mission that will also take me to Kiev in my capacity as Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE. In this capacity, I will discuss the issues at the top of the Organization’s agenda with my colleague Lavrov, spanning from the crisis in and around Ukraine, to prolonged conflicts and the challenges that the Organization will have to tackle in the near future.
My primary objective is to reaffirm, both in Moscow and in Kiev, our full support for a political solution of the Ukrainian crisis through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements thanks to the efforts of the Normandy Group and of the OSCE itself, in its various spheres of activity, from that of observer to that of negotiator.
With Minister Lavrov we will also devote time to tackling issues relative to our political and economic bilateral agenda and international current events, starting with the crisis in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.
2. Russian experts claim that when relations between Russia and the West start getting rough, it is precisely Italy that takes on the role of mediator. To what extent do you think this corresponds to the truth?
Italy has always been among the Countries that deem it fundamental to persevere in continuing the dialogue with the Russian Federation, at political as at economic level, albeit within the boundaries outlined by the restrictive measures.
For us, this does not mean that we necessarily agree with some of Moscow’s political choices that we think are wrong, or accept illegitimate situations like the annexation of Crimea. Instead, what it does mean is discussing with Moscow themes and issues that closely concern us all, starting from global threats to the issue of economic growth and development, human rights and civil liberties, and stabilising the areas of crisis.
Over time, we have built a friendly and trusting relationship with the Russian Federation, which enables us to speak outright also about issues on which our positions remain distant. This is an essentially positive aspect of our relationship and with which we are particularly satisfied.
3. If I’m not wrong, in the past Italy was against automatically renewing the sanctions that the EU imposed on Russia. Will this stance taken by Rome remain unvaried regardless of the result of the March elections?
Italy believes in the political value of sanctions, i.e. getting Russia back on the track of constructively cooperating. Europe’s sanctions are characterised by flexibility and gradualness, which makes it possible to calibrate them according to the developments on the ground and around the negotiating table. This is why we insisted that, upon renewing them, a political discussion be launched on the progress made in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which remain our timeframe of reference on which to establish the duration of the sanctions.
4. In 2018, Italy holds the OSCE Chairmanship: do you see solving the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as a priority? If yes, what steps does Rome intend to take in this respect?
Solving the crisis in and around Ukraine is a priority for Italy’s OSCE chairmanship. The Organization already greatly contributes to solving the crisis, both through the Special Monitoring Mission, through the observer mission at the checkpoints at Gukovo and Donetsk, and through an articulated mediation activity within the Trilateral Contact Group.
It will be up to us to foster and give new impulse to these formats, which will work in close coordination and connection with the Normandy Group. We do not intend to change the architecture or purpose of the negotiation, which is to implement the Minsk Agreements. On the contrary, we want to create, on the one hand, the conditions for the discussion between the parties to proceed smoothly and effectively and, on the other hand, work to assure the safety of the observers of the Special Monitoring Mission. This is an aspect to which I attach great importance, for which we will spare no effort and in view of which I expect genuine and effective commitment on the part of all the actors involved, including Russia.
5. In consideration of Libya’s strategic importance for Italy, do you count on Russia’s cooperation in settling the Libyan crisis?
Of course, cooperating with Moscow on the Libyan dossier is a priority for Italy and a constant in our action. On the other hand, with Moscow we share the same vision on the Libyan crisis and on the path that must be taken to solve it. Italy has consistently always taken great care in assuring Russia’s continuing participation in all the high-level meetings on the Libyan dossier and we frequently have consultations on the topic. Evidence of this is the recent lengthy and fruitful conversation between Prime Minister Gentiloni and President Putin, which again confirmed the deep accord on the issue of supporting the action of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative Salamé and the Institutions envisaged in the Libyan Political Agreement.
Allow me to recall the key role played by Moscow in assuring cohesion within the Security Council on a number of issues linked to the developments in the complex Libyan dossier. For example, also thanks to Russia’s efforts within the Security Council, it was possible to adopt a Statement by the President on 14 December formally reaffirming the validity of the institutional framework envisaged in the Political Agreement until the completion of the transition process. This statement has represented a highly significant moment for the International Community, by supporting Prof Salamé’s Action Plan and its different components, in view of the completion of the election process by 2018. The challenges ahead of reaching this date are numerous and complex. Being able to continue counting on this positive cohesion among the International Community, and especially on the commonality of views between Rome and Moscow, will be more important than ever in the upcoming months.