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Russia-EU Crisis: the Italian Perspective

A few tips to avoid the creation of a new dividing line in Europe

Russia-EU Crisis: the Italian Perspective

Claudia Astarita

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Nathalie Tocci, the Deputy Director of the Rome-based think tank Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), recently represented Italy in the ECFR's EU-Russia Strategy Group, a group that Italy, Spain, Finland, Germany and Poland set up in 2014 to provide a venue for a restricted group of European policymakers and experts to have an informal and high-level dialogue on Russia.

According to Dr. Tocci, "Italy has traditionally looked at Russia through an economic rather than a geopolitical lens. Rome has deep economic and energy ties with Russia, and it has not been particularly interested in the region that Russia has traditionally considered to be its sphere of influence". In this context, the Italian researcher argues that "the Ukraine crisis has marked a gradual structural shift in Italian foreign policy towards Russia", although the country remained more inclined towards moderation and engagement rather than confrontation. Accordingly, "Italy is likely to follow Europe's line on punitive measures towards Russia, although it would advise caution on the implementation of further sanctions. This caution is clearly rooted in Italy's domestic economic interests, but it would be reductive to interpret it as entirely based on domestic concerns. Italy believes that although - and in fact, because - sanctions are having an effect on Russia's economy, they may simply accelerate Russia's turn to the east, diluting or severing the economic and societal contacts that bind Russia to Europe. This does not mean that Italy opposes sanctions, but rather, that it is carefully weighing the political pros and cons of punitive measures".

Rome and Bruxelles should aim at avoiding the creation of a new dividing line in Europe. "As the Ukraine crisis itself demonstrates, Russia has not succeeded and will not succeed in absorbing all its neighbours into a geopolitical Eurasian Union that is opposed to the West. At the same time, the EU must recognise that its own geopolitical vision of a homogenous ring of friendly Europeanising neighbours to the east is not likely to come about either. Some neighbours have demonstrated their European orientation, but others have turned away, either voluntarily or under threat. The EU must acknowledge these choices, while still keeping its doors open to all. Hence, the EU needs to seek a modus vivendi with the Eurasian Economic Union - a far more geographically limited and politically unambitious project than the EU itself".

At the same time, cooperation with Russia is also needed, especially on key issues such as terrorism and maritime security, and a united EU approach towards the challenges posed by Moscow should be prioritized.

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