19 Apr 2012

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi: Russia‘s concerns on missile defense issue need to be taken into due consideration

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi has given an interview to Interfax ahead of a meeting of Russian and Italian foreign and defense ministers in the 2+2 format due in Moscow on April 20 in which he speaks about pressing issues on the international agenda, such as missile defense issue and Syria, as well as bilateral Italian-Russian economic cooperation.

Question: Mr. Terzi, what questions do you intend to discuss during your visit to Moscow on a priority basis?

Answer: The 2+2 dialogue format, which involves ministers of foreign affairs and of defense of our two countries, matches the width and depth of the strategic partnership between Rome and Moscow on security and foreign policy. The meeting will allow thorough consultations on European security, keeping in mind the current dialogue among Russia, United States and NATO on missile defense programs, which is not always easy; furthermore we shall exchange views on the most relevant current regional issues, in particular the situation in Syria, the Iranian nuclear program, which is source of concern both for Russia and Italy, and common efforts to advance stabilization in Afghanistan.

Q.: How do you evaluate the current state and prospects of bilateral relations with Russia with regard for the new Cabinet of Ministers in Italy and the upcoming change of administration in Russia? Previously, one got the impression that the ‘personality factor‘ plays a certain role in Russian-Italian relations. Do you agree with that?

A.: Russia is a strategic partner and it will continue to be. Our relations are excellent and based on very solid political, economic and cultural basis and on common interests. Our economies are somehow complementary and cooperation is mutually beneficial. Italy is the second trade partner of Russia in Europe: bilateral trade amounted to 46 billion US$ in 2011, with an increase of over 22% compared to 2010, while export on the Russian market is vital for many small and medium sized Italian companies.
Energy is a sector where our partnership is a bright example of cooperation. Industrial relations have a clear strategic nature: think of joint ventures between Alenia and Sukhoi for the production of the middle range airplane Superjet, or between Agusta Westland and Russian Helicopters for the production of the helicopter AW 139. Then you have major Italian companies which have largely invested in the Russian market: Pirelli, FIAT, Indesit, Ferrero and Danieli, just to quote some examples. And of course Russians and Italians appreciate the role ‘personality factor‘ can play also in international relations.

Q.: Italy has always been among the most popular tourist destinations for Russian tourists. Are you interested in expanding humanitarian, cultural and business ties? Are there plans to ease the visa regime on a bilateral level? When will Russia and the EU go over to a visa-free regime? Do you think it can happen in 2014 as Russia expects?

A.: I see the great success of the 2011 Italian-Russian Year of Culture and Language as a starting point, an example. We were able to ‘energize‘ so many contacts between our two governments, our cultural institutions, our people. We can build-up on this experience as well as on the strong ties between Russian and Italian universities, research and technology. Every day 70 Russian scientists work in the laboratories of Gran Sasso in Italy.
Business of course is a priority: we want to promote more opportunities for both Russian investments in Italy and Italian companies in Russia. Next month our embassy in Moscow will issue a special guide for Italian businessmen interested in the Russian market, based on precious information provided by Russian institutions, including all the regions and republics of the Russian Federation. Later this year an extensive program of cultural and economic promotional activities will take place in Moscow.
As far as the visa regime is concerned, we understand that visas are an obstacle to the overall development of mutually beneficial ties: we are therefore acting in two directions. In Brussels we have been working for years and we shall continue to work in order to achieve our joint aim of a visa-free regime between the European Union and Russia. Meanwhile, our consular offices in Russia are trying to facilitate as much as possible visa issuance within the framework of Schengen rules. This policy bore fruit, if you consider that visas issued by the General Consulate of Italy in Moscow grew from about 315,000 in 2009 to over 560,000 in 2011.

Q.: Will the new Italian Cabinet continue the policy of ‘great friendship‘ with Russia in the sphere of energy? Does the current Italian government back the South Stream gas pipeline?

A.: Yes. ENI, Italian major gas and oil company, is committed to the development of the South Stream gas pipeline as one of its major shareholders. The Italian Government fully backs the efforts of ENI in this respect, in the framework of our long standing and successful cooperation with our Russian partners. Our partnership in this strategic sector is not limited to gas. ENEL, our main electricity company, is one of the major power generators in the Russian market. Russia of course is not our sole energy partner: we have and will continue to have a balanced pattern of energy providers and a diversified energy mix. That said, I am convinced that the balance is not going to change in the future to the detriment of Russia. In fact perspectives of our bilateral energy cooperation are indeed bright.

Q.: How is cooperation between Italy and Russia on the construction of the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 progressing?

A.: The Sochi Winter Olympics will be a major event in Russia, that will transform an entire region. Major infrastructural investments have been under way for some time in the city itself and in the nearby area. Italian firms have been able to contribute their expertise while others have been selling their products, in particular equipments and furniture. We know how much Russians appreciate Italian design and technology; that is why we hope that, over the next two years in the run-up to the Olympics, more contracts will be signed by Italian companies as all the various works now under way will be completed. And let us not forget that, after the Olympics, Sochi will host another major event to which Italy will also be able to contribute: the Formula One Grand Prix.

Q.: The relations between Russia and NATO have recently been darkened by a deadlock situation in the negotiations on missile defense. Does Italy see a possible way out of this situation? How did Rome take the information on measures that Russia may take in response to the U.S.-NATO missile defense?

A.: On missile defense we are fully aware we need to take Russian concerns into due consideration, as we are convinced on the need to actively cooperate with Moscow in promoting a viable and efficient Euro-Atlantic security. We realize the enormous potential that an understanding on that issue would have in terms of fostering the strategic dimension of the partnership between NATO and Russia envisaged at the Lisbon Summit and which remains our common goal. We have to work on positive aspects in the spirit and in the logic of the agreements of Pratica di Mare. As President [Dmitry] Medvedev has repeatedly underlined, the doors remain open to negotiations, and we see how frequently contacts between American and Russian experts take place. I think we don’t have to overdramatize the existing differences, as we all have a clear willingness to listen to each other; the conference organized by the Russian Defense Ministry at the beginning of May, for example, will provide a new important occasion for an in depth analysis of the issue, gathering qualified experts from many countries.

Q.: Italy was very active during the conflict in Libya. Are you satisfied with the situation there now? What is Italy‘s stance on Syria? Will this country be able to avoid the Libyan scenario?

A.: As a neighboring country and a strong partner we are not only following with great attention the developments in Libya, but also actively contributing to the international community’s initiatives to support the efforts of the Libyan authorities to establish a democratic and solid country. After such a long period of [Col. Muammar] Gaddafi’s rule and the internal conflict, this process is inevitably slow and difficult, but I continue to believe that the country has the potential to overcome the existing problems. The commitment by Europe, UN and major players is crucial to help the transition.
Syria is a different case in terms of approach of the International Community. We, as Russia does, fully support the efforts of the UN/Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, who offered a balanced plan in order to create the necessary conditions for the start of a political process in the country. We have strongly welcomed the adoption, by unanimity, of UN Security Council Resolution 2024, and we now expect Damascus to immediately implement its obligations stemming from this Resolution, in order to ensure the end of bloodshed in Syria.