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Minister Alfano’s interview to TASS

1.     You are about to leave on a new mission which will include visits to Kiev and Moscow: two capitals that, at the moment, are not experiencing smooth relations. What is on your agenda?

This will be my first mission as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office,  inspired by the motto “dialogue, ownership, responsibility”. These are the three tracks along which I will hold the talks in Ukraine and in Russia, which will include sensitive issues such as the crisis in and around Ukraine and prolonged conflicts, as well as topics regarding the future of the Organization.

I will launch a message promoting a political solution of the crisis, through the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, supported by the efforts of the Normandy Contact Group and the OSCE itself, in its manifold dimensions, spanning from observation to negotiation.

There will certainly be the opportunity to tackle issues on the political and economic bilateral agenda, as well as international current events, starting from the crises in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.

2.       You will travel from Kiev to Moscow in your capacity as OSCE Chairperson. The OSCE is engaged in the observers mission in Eastern Ukraine, and you said that the Ukrainian crisis would be one of the priority issues for Italy. How can Italy contribute and what do you expect from your mission? Do you think you will have a more accurate picture of the situation? 

My talks in Kiev and Moscow on the crisis in and around Ukraine will have a broad scope and will be attended, in some phases, also by OSCE envoys. I expect to get a realistic picture of the development on the ground as well as interesting clues on how to organize OSCE’s future engagement in Ukraine. This especially applies to the special monitoring mission, in which we are strongly engaged, especially from the point of view of security. Some of the recent incidents, including the withdrawal of Russian officers from the JCCC, are a cause of concern and must be tackled immediately, together with Russia and Ukraine.

At negotiating level, we do not intend to change the current architecture but only support all the initiatives that will give new impetus to dialogue and rekindle the parties’ political will to reach a sustainable and long-lasting compromise. I have decided to include the term ‘ownership’ in the motto of the Italian Chairmanship of the OSCE to reiterate that there can be no positive outcome to regional crises unless there is the will of the players to promote and support it.

3.       Italy, as the other European  partners, has often reiterated that it is necessary to fully implement the Minsk agreements. How would you assess the state of implementation of said agreements?

The Minsk agreements have not been implemented satisfactorily both in terms of security on the ground and of the political clauses. At this point we must urgently stabilize the situation, implementing a long-lasting ceasefire and immediately initiating the withdrawal of heavy weaponry. This would avoid a further deterioration of the humanitarian conditions and more civilian suffering due to the catastrophic consequences caused by a prolonged conflict. No less important is the political settlement of the crisis, which involves structural regulatory adjustments that, while respecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, must assure a ‘special status’ to the Eastern Ukraine areas concerned, thus fulfilling the requests of the Russian-speaking communities residing there.

Crimea is out of this scenario, which remains a gaping wound in the relations between Russia and the western world.

4.       According to rumours in Europe, the Ukrainian crisis is now frozen, no one talks about it anymore nor about the suffering population of the Donbass region. What sort of humanitarian aid can be provided, also through OSCE channels?

It is absolutely not true that in Europe no one speaks about the crisis in and around Ukraine anymore, and that no attention is paid to the humanitarian aspects which, on the contrary, are given the utmost consideration. There is, however, a structural problem linked to the difficulties humanitarian aid workers find in accessing the areas of conflict – and this must be solved with no further delay. Russia can play a major role in this sense, by exerting pressure on separatist groups.

Let me also recall that, also at a national level, we have recently granted humanitarian support (500,000 euro) via UNICEF, the World Food Program (500,000 euro) and the International Red Cross Committee (1 million euro).

5.       There has been a sort of controversy over the methods of OSCE observers of assuring security in Ukraine. How could security be better guaranteed? With a Blue Helmets mission? 

Security for OSCE observers is an issue of utmost priority. They play a critical role because they give an objective evaluation of the unfolding of the situation in the conflict areas, thus providing invaluable elements for policy makers. Their security was in part ensured by the JCCC, the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination in Ukraine, from which the Russian officers unfortunately stepped out in December. Therefore, we must re-establish the JCCC and fill the vacuum left by resorting to new channels for dialogue at military level. I will discuss this both in Kiev and in Moscow. 

We must also continue to work on the UN mission project, which was welcomed by both Russia and Ukraine, and pay attention to its mandate, its terms and the timeline of its engagement, along with the relevant coordination between the OSCE and the UN.

6.  A few days ago you met the Syrian opposition leader. Did you talk about the national Congress they are organising with Russia, Turkey and Iran in Sochi? What is Italy’s opinion on this intitiative?

Italy has always seen Russia as an essential partner for a political solution of the Syrian conflict.  

The key to a sustainable political transition in Syria is to allow the Syrian people to freely choose, in complete transparency, their system of government and their leaders. 

Only a UN-led political process, in line with Security Council Resolution 2254, can establish the conditions needed for a new constitution and credible elections, under the United Nations supervision.

The Sochi initiative can be useful to the extent to which it is hinged on the Geneva Process, preserves the leadership of UN envoy [Staffan] de Mistura, and induces the Syrian regime to negotiate in good faith. We hope that the Sochi Congress will bear this in mind, otherwise it would miss its opportunity to succeed.

This basic approach to Sochi is also shared by the Syrian opposition, which is strongly committed to the Geneva Process. It is due time for Russia to exert its influence on Assad to stop evading negotiations and Security Council Resolution 2254.