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Italy has the Presidency of OSCE for 2018. A year that could be one of the most decisive, both for Italy and for the resolution of the long and wearing political and military conflict, ravaging the Ukrainian eastern region of Donbass.
Italy is one of the most important OSCE contributors, representing around 10% of its budget, with 10% going to financing missions on the field, especially the Special Monitoring Mission OSCE had dislocated in Donbass with the aim of defusing tensions and reach at least a durable ceasefire between the conflicting parties. That is the Ukrainian military, some nationalist or patriotic-oriented Ukrainian militias, the so-called Russian separatists (opolcenzi) and Moscow soldiers, although not always with an official recognition by the Russian state, but unofficially present in Donbass as military private contractors.
Italy is one of the most influential countries of Western Europe and the OSCE presidency could be one of the best opportunities for the country to make its presence in the international arena felt. Italy is traditionally more concerned about its neighbouring areas in the south, especially the north African countries and the Balkans. This might also include the Horn of Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. OSCE is generally more concerned about Eastern Europe, where it has a greater presence. But in 2018 Italy and OSCE will have to cooperate in a joint effort and commit themselves to finding a lasting solution for the crisis in Ukraine.
Italy in itself is not part of the “Normandy Format,” which includes France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, nor not part of the “Minsk agreements,” which are the juridical and political platform for reaching a viable solution to achieving an end to hostilities in Donbass. Both Italy and OSCE are keep to achieve a durable and viable solution to the war in Donbass, as both parties see such a solution as a major accomplishment of their, respectively, one year tenure of the OSCE Italian Presidency and a major institutional goal for OSCE. For Italy, it is an opportunity to play a role that puts Italy at the same level as the major European players, like France and Germany.
Italy in itself is committed enough to the full integration of Ukraine into the EU, although it is not one of its staunchest supporters, in comparison to Germany, Poland, Sweden and the US that see high national stakes in Ukraine’s overcoming its present difficulties. Furthermore, as other western European states in the past, Italy generally adopts a prudent stance on the integration of Ukraine into NATO, aware of the potential dangers of a possible military confrontation with Russia ensuing from article 5.
To this, its “special relation” with Russia, built on old historical and cultural ties dating back to the Cold War and even before, mutual economic interests and diplomatic trust may help Italy, to a certain degree, in its mediation role in the Ukrainian crisis and especially as far as the wearing, simmering and intractable conflict in Eastern Ukraine is concerned. Being a major contributor to OSCE, having a strong interest and desire to highlight its role and importance in the international community and especially within the Western European one and to reach a higher degree of mutual understanding in the quintessential relations with the US, still an important security provider for Italy and Western Europe.
Furthermore having a strong interest in overcoming the crisis in Ukraine as a severe cause of tensions between the West and Russia, with the connected problems that, to a certain extent, affect EU energy security and Italian energy interests because of the sanctions, imposed by the US to European energy concerns working with Russian state-owned enterprises (author's note – ENI is a major Italian energy concern that has strong ties to Russian energy concerns – playing role of big investor in the Russian energy market and in the Black Sea. This is an important factor influences Italian politics, albeit not the only one) and severely damage Italian exports to Russia because of Russian countersanctions.
It will be in Italy’s best interest to try to strike a very difficult and even daunting balance between different or even diverging national and international interests and therefore defuse and reduce the intensity of the on-going Ukrainian crisis, and especially the Donbass conflict, or as it is called officially by Ukrainian authorities an “anti-terrorism operation”, as much as it rests in Italy’s power. Italy is now represented by the Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, not always fit for the post, and the well more experienced and capable Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Italy is split between its interest to be a good western country, friend of the US, peer, to the extent that of France and Germany and its important economic relations with Russia dating back to the cold war and even before (Italy had the strongest Communist Party of the West, and some of the people of that time still active as political life) but what is it the secure that Italy has all possible reasons to try to achieve within its one-year tenure of the OSCE a lasting peace with Ukraine so that business can resume with Russia also, but not least, it can regain a good international position in Europe and with the US.
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