Is the Italian presidency of the OSCE good news for Ukraine?

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Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano’s speech at the time of taking over the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe certainly marked a positive note: having put Ukraine on top of its priorities. But it could be the only one.

Alfano in his speech has quoted the country four times, always talking about “Ukrainian crisis”. Not once did the word “war” came out from the lips of the Italian minister, who warned against the risk of “escalating the crisis”.

The term “conflict” only appeared once, as soon as the Ukraine chapter was closed, and he started to talk about Transnistria and Nagorno Karabakh. Yet, in the copious production of OSCE documents on Ukraine, the words “war” and “conflict” are not a taboo.

Alfano carefully weighs the words. Declassifying the war in Donbass to a “crisis” will probably not upset the Russian partner, that gained another point from the Italian Foreign Minister, when he affirmed that the peace process is jeopardized by “mutual provocations” of the parties. It’s maybe true, but underlining it by not saying that we are talking about Ukrainian territory imposes a clear set-up for the program.

A “crisis” that kills

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian “crisis” continues to kill. To kill soldiers whom everyone calls “victims of war”. Six already from the beginning of the year, at least from the government side. We do not know about victims on the other side of the frontline.

The truce entered into force on February 15, 2015 has frozen the situation on the ground, turning a war of conquest into a grueling trench war. Almost three years later, the exchanges of fire with light weapons are on daily basis and even the use of artillery – prohibited by the agreements that have created a demilitarized zone of 15 kilometers, is anything but rare.

The peace process, launched in Minsk, has turned into a quagmire in which Ukraine has found itself enmeshed because of its weak position in both the military and the international field. A series of clauses written to stop the war when it was at its peak and which does not take into account a number of elements that later have become clear as the sun, such as the use of undercover soldiers, the supply of weapons to the separatists and the incarceration of Ukrainian citizens kidnapped in Crimea and Donbass.

A lapse of time that has reduced the Donbass into an impoverished, depopulated, war-ravaged territory that no one wants to bear anymore. Not only has Russia lost its interest in Novorossiya, but also Ukraine is no longer willing to waste lives and resources to regain control over that territory.

Rebooting the OSCE

Alfano’s plan starts right from Minsk. It must be said that it is a shared vision at European level. A vision in balance between the sanctions regime on the one hand and the desire to continue doing business with Russia on the other. In this, the line drawn by Alfano seems comply with the policy carried out so far by both the European Union and by the main European countries. The latter – Germany and France – components of the so-called Normandy Format, the engine of the Minsk agreements.

The OSCE, for its part, is a member of the Trilateral Contact Group, the other soul of Minsk. It is therefore clear that the role of the organization – and consequently of the current presidency – in the implementation of the agreements is of primary importance.

But it is above all on the field that the OSCE can give its most concrete contribution. And on this Alfano did not use half terms: the special monitoring mission, which supervises the holding of the truce, and which too often is not put in a position to carry out its task, is the point from which to start. No mention of blue helmets.

The next step of Alfano will be a visit to Ukraine and Russia from January 30th. Perhaps the best opportunity to understand in which direction he will go.



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