I believe that Russia needs reassuring on one point, and that is that Ukraine’s entry into NATO is not a realistic possibility; but that NATO will defend its borders is in the organisation’s nature. We must take note of President Putin’s statement denying any aggressive intentions. On the other hand, it is odd to have accused NATO of having them simply because it is strengthening its alliance mechanisms, which is defensive by definition. The wound that opened with the Ukraine crisis must be allowed to heal by applying the Minsk accords, in the strategic interests both of Europe and, in my opinion, of Russia as well”. Paolo Gentiloni discusses Vladimir Putin’s interview for Corriere. The minister was in Cairo for a summit with Egypt and Algeria.
Putin clearly said that Russia considers its relationship with Italy a privileged one. Is the same true for us?
«Italy is aware of and pleased about that. The privileged relationship derives from the knowledge that Italy is doing its part in support of its European and American allies, with constancy and firmness, but at the same time has no desire to close its dialogue with Moscow – and this policy line has a history. It has been since the 1970s that Italy has coupled fidelity and loyalty to its allies with a special rapport, intense also at economic level, with Russia. These two things justify the idea of a privileged relationship. What is most interesting is that neither they nor we construe it as a rapport that breaks with our traditional alliances».
You mentioned the economic dimension: has that stalled as a result of the embargo?
«There are no obstacles to economic collaboration with Russia in the sectors targeted by the sanctions. On the contrary, the curtailed flow of oil has pushed Russia toward economic diversification and that offers our firms new opportunities. There has surely been a decline in trade, but Russia remains a market of enormous potential».
How do you view that privileged relationship against the Ukraine crisis?
«The Russians are well aware that Italy respects decisions taken with the EU and in common with the U.S., and is an influential voice in monitoring Ukraine and insisting on keeping the channels for dialogue with Moscow open. I do not think that the Russians are so interested in Italy breaking with its allies, also because they know that is not going to happen».
Putin is insinuating, however, that the Americans are not so keen on any warming of relations between Europe and Russia.
«From a present standpoint, it doesn’t look that way to me. I think John Kerry’s mission to Sochi, while not spelling a return to “business as usual”, is proof that the U.S. administration is also convinced of the need for dialogue. What did they discuss if not cooperation on various international dossiers, in addition naturally to the strong divergences that remain – the interview shows that – on Ukraine? The current state of affairs tells us that America too is pairing firmness with dialogue. From a strategic point of view, I believe that Europe as a whole should pose itself the problem of rebuilding a relationship of broad-based collaboration with Moscow».
Putin is focused on Minsk 2 on Ukraine as the basis for any peaceful solution, but is accusing Europeans and Americans of not putting enough pressure on the Kiev government to respect the accord obligations.
«We do not share President Putin’s reconstruction of the Ukraine situation as a mixture of siege, conspiracy and coup. Something surely went wrong in their relations with Russia when they were on the threshold of an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. But the crisis is the result completely of Moscow’s reaction, both with the annexation of Crimea and its support for the Donbass separatists. This is about the past, and Moscow must prove its intention to halt the separatists; much remains to be done regarding the ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, separation of the parties and prisoner exchanges. Nevertheless, I am well aware that a very difficult task awaits the Ukraine leadership: defending territorial integrity while also enacting economic and constitutional reforms. Russia must know that the EU is encouraging this».
You are on a visit to Cairo, where you intend to discuss regional crises in general and Libya in particular. How important is Russia’s contribution to resolving the various crises?
«There is no doubt that encounter with Russia is needed on many dossiers – nuclear Iran, Syria, Libya, the environment, disarmament».
The G7 in Garmisch concludes today. Is it foreseeable that one day it will go back to being called the G8, with Russia returning to take part?
«That is unimaginable today. Until the Ukraine crisis is resolved, it will be difficult to rebuild. But it could become possible in the future ».