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Interview with Minister Alfano by RIA NOVOSTI

1. Mister Minister, on 1 January Italy took over the OSCE rotating chairmanship and therefore you are now the Chairperson-in-Office of this influential international Organization. Could you give a short list of the priorities that Rome intends to pursue during your chairmanship in 2018?

Italy is proud of having taken over the Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. We believe in the role of the OSCE because it is an international organization that, ever since it was established at the Helsinki Conference in 1975, has made a fundamental contribution to peace and security in Europe. “Dialogue, Ownership, Responsibility” is the motto that we have chosen for the Italian chairmanship this year, with the aim of relaunching the spirit of Helsinki in its most authentic formulation.

Under our Chairmanship, we shall focus utmost attention on the crisis in Ukraine and on the so-called prolonged conflicts in the OSCE area (Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Georgia). Our primary commitment is to contribute to seeking a solution to the Ukrainian crisis. As OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, I will go on a mission to Ukraine from 30 to 31 January and to Moscow on 1 February, and I will contact the members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Eastern Ukraine, a mission that is playing a key role in avoiding the risk of a new escalation of violence and that Italy strongly supports through a significant number of observers.

Another of our priorities is to give greater centrality to the challenges coming from the Mediterranean, in the conviction that the Mediterranean sphere is complementary and not alternative to OSCE’s Eurasian sphere. It is a message that we launched last October, at the OSCE Mediterranean Conference held in Palermo.

Lastly, the Italian Chairmanship intends to commit to reinforcing the three dimensions at the basis of the OSCE’s “comprehensive security” concept: the politico-military, economic-environmental and human dimensions.

2. You just mentioned the importance of solving the Ukrainian crisis. You will shortly visit Moscow and Kiev. What results do you hope to achieve during your trip, considering the recent approval by the Ukrainian Parliament of the so-called Donbass reintegration law, which the Russian Foreign Ministry believes is aimed at “shelfing” the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy Format? What do you think the OSCE can do to contribute to solving this crisis?

The OSCE 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.

The Chair in Office will be tasked 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 discussion between the parties to proceed smoothly and effectively and, on the other hand, work to assure the safety of observers.

The solution of the crisis resides neither in Vienna nor in Rome but in the political will of the parties concerned to reach a real compromise. It is essential to avoid measures that might turn out to be divisive and crystallize the position of the actors around the negotiating table. A prolonged conflict in Eastern Ukraine benefits no one, not Kiev, not Moscow and not Europe: the faster we become aware of this, the sooner we will solve the crisis, re-establishing stability and assuring respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.

3. At the beginning of January, you announced that former Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had been appointed OSCE Special Representative for Transnistrian Settlement. Are you planning to discuss this issue during your upcoming trip, considering that Russia and Ukraine participate as intermediaries in the 5+2 negotiation format to regularise Transnistria? In your opinion, what tangible steps could be taken in 2018 to solve this prolonged conflict?

The negotiation to stabilise Transnistria is promising and has made significant progress in 2017. Russia and Ukraine constructively cooperate in the negotiation and this is an encouraging element. As the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, I will discuss it both with Minister Klimkin and with Minister Lavrov. It is precisely because I am convinced of the relevance of the dossier that I have decided to have Franco Frattini handle it, as he has unquestioned competence and experience in international politics. He is getting ready to meet with the parties and with the negotiators so as to outline the next negotiating phases, starting with a possible agreement on automobile licence plates.

4. On 15 January, Vladimir Putin and Paolo Gentiloni had a long telephone conversation during which they discussed the situation in Libya, among other things. According to sources at the Italian Prime Minister’s Office, Gentiloni appreciated the role played by Russia on the Libyan dossier at the UN Security Council. How do you see the prospect of Italy and Russia cooperating in seeking a political solution to the Libyan crisis? 

The recent long and friendly telephone conversation between Prime Minister Gentiloni and President Putin on the Libyan dossier, that once again highlighted a great commonality of views, confirms a common vision founded on the commitment to foster a peaceful political solution to the crisis in Libya. Our action is especially based on supporting the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative Salamé and the Institutions envisaged under the Political Agreement, which represents the institutional platform that must guide Libya through the transition process. 

The debate with Moscow on Libya has always been rich and fruitful, as proven by Italy’s attention to Russia’s continuing participation in all the high-level meetings on the Libyan dossier and to Moscow’s positive role in assuring a strong cohesion within the Security Council on an issue that is central for the stability and security of the Central Mediterranean and of Italy.

We believe that 2018 could mark the end of Libya’s long transition process, to be crowned with a final election in accordance with Prof Salamé’s Action Plan. Moreover, we are aware that the challenges to be met in order to achieve this goal are numerous and the cohesive support of the International Community, and especially of Rome and Moscow, will be essential.

5. In January, the Chamber of Deputies approved launching a new international mission in Niger, deploying 470 Italian troops. In the past, you have repeatedly spoken of the need for massive investments in Africa, also with a view to solving the serious problem of migration. How does the strategy that you outlined combine with the deployment of an Italian contingent in that African Country?

Between 15 and 17 January, the Parliament approved the Cabinet’s decision to provide Niger with a contingent of a maximum of 470 men in order to train and assist Niger’s armed forces in combating terrorism and illegal traffickers, including human traffickers. The actual size of the contingent will be jointly decided with the Nigerien authorities according to their needs, which could amount to an average of 250 troops.

Italy is happy to be able to make this contribution, which is consistent with our traditional attention on the African continent, a policy that has been considerably strengthened in the past few years. Our approach combines security and solidarity in assuring adequate protection to migrants, especially the most vulnerable ones, and at the same time tackling the deep-rooted causes of migration. We thus increased the funds for the development cooperation service, which last year allocated 180 million euros to the African continent through the Africa Fund. Still in 2017, we provided considerable financial resources to African Countries with the aim of leveraging the local development potential of the communities most affected by the impact of the migration phenomenon. It is the same approach that we promoted at European level, first with the Migration Compact of April 2016 and then with pilot projects targeting several Countries in West and East Africa. And, again aiming to eliminate the deep-rooted causes of illegal migration, we strongly promoted the European External Investment Plan, which intends to stimulate a considerable flow of investments – essentially private – into various sectors of the African economy. Thus, without in any way neglecting development cooperation interventions, we work to improve the security conditions, in the conviction that there can be no development without security.    

6. Honourable Alfano, during your last visit to Moscow in November of last year, you attended the meeting of the Italy-Russia Economic, Industrial and Financial Cooperation Council, where you announced the intention to exercise political pressure on your European Union partners. Has any progress been made in this direction? Do you see the possibility of lifting the EU sanctions against Russia in a foreseeable future?

I have said this many times and I will repeat it. The duration of the economic sanctions is linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Therefore, we must work to create the conditions that can enable the removal of the restrictions. There is no other option. On our part, we remain convinced that the renewal of sanctions cannot be automatic but must always follow a wide-reaching political debate. Instead, I do not see substantial changes in individual and sectoral restrictive measures linked to the Crimea dossier, which remains a deep wound in our relations with Moscow.