Lamberto Zannier will finish his six years as Secretary-General of the OSCE, the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe, in mid-2017. And the career diplomat says he is cautiously optimistic that the conflict that has dominated his tenure - Ukraine - can be ended peacefully.

"We can only improve from where we are ... We try to monitor, we try to assist, [we try to] help the civilians who are suffering - [And let's not forget,] we're at the beginning of the year," Zannier tells Al Jazeera during his visit to United Nations Headquarters in New York. "But there's a lot of work [to do]. The right of the people to vote [on] the split, the return of prisoners is very complicated ... The trust between the two sides is very low."

Zannier, an Italian lawyer with long experience in diplomacy, was the UN Special Representative for Kosovo and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) from 2008 to 2011. He also spent years working on arms control issues and is an advocate for conflict prevention strategies. Zannier tells Al Jazeera he is glad the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has put conflict prevention at the heart of his agenda.

As for the future of the OSCE, created to help countries navigate the end of the Cold War era in 1991, Zannier see opportunity. The opening, according to Zannier, is twofold: First, Russia's long-running frustration with western security policy. "[I was in Munich for the Security Conference last week, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov was there, really talking about the end of the western-centered world, the West weaker in a way," Zannier tells Al Jazeera. "Part of is this that Russia doesn't feel it was [ever] part of the new security structure over the last 20 years, so it's coming back [to the table] with a bunch of grudges."

The other part of the opening: The Trump administration's mixed signals on its engagement with and support of the UN, NATO, and other multilateral organisations. Zannier tells Al Jazeera the OSCE's flexible structure might be what is needed to help countries address new security concerns.

"OSCE is an inexpensive option - it's inclusive, everyone in the region is there," Zannier says. In the future, he adds, "I think we might want to look for a more solid European security architecture that might prevent further flare-ups, that can also focus on fighting terrorism or deal with problems in cyberspace, or dealing with economic issues, [ultimately] a good way of strengthening ties [on the continent]."

Finally, Zannier has this advice for his eventual successor: "Work on expanding the space for engagement - where you can get [the] parties [to focus on] common interests, as opposed to the logic of sanctions and the logic of confrontation."

Source: Al Jazeera News