Silvio Berlusconi, the former premier of Italy, is under fire for his relationship with Vladimir Putin after being caught on camera discussing a vodka gift the Russian president gave him for his birthday. Although his advisors argued that he had been misunderstood, the controversy might embarrass his coalition partners. They have maintained cordial connections with Moscow for a long time and are led by far-right figure Giorgia Meloni. While Berlusconi and her other coalition ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, have long enjoyed cordial connections with Moscow, Meloni firmly supports Ukraine and the EU sanctions against Russia. The headline on Wednesday’s La Repubblica read, ‘Meloni prisoner of pro-Russians’.
Prior to the Italian news agency LaPresse releasing excerpts of the audio, supporters of political veteran Berlusconi originally refuted allegations of his remarks. The remarks were made this week during a gathering of MPs from his Forza Italia party, according to Italian news outlet LaPresse. In an audio clip made public by the CIA, he is heard stating, ‘I kind of reunited with President Putin’.
Putin – ‘person of peace’
A spokesman for former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied he had rekindled relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was telling parliamentarians an ‘old story relating to an episode dating back many years’, a spokesman said. In audio released by the Italian parliament, he is heard describing his concerns about sending weapons and cash to support Ukraine. He said his personal position ‘do not deviate from that of the Italian government (and) the European Union’. A senior Forza Italia lawmaker says his comments had been taken out of context. In April, he had said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ by Putin’s conduct in Ukraine — but later said he wasn’t ‘pushed’ into it.
Francesco Lollobrigida, a prominent Brother of Italy politician and Meloni’s close aide, also attempted to defuse the tension. ‘ We continue to fully support the Ukrainian people in defending their democracy inside the Western axis’. He informed the journalists, ‘You must ask other people about their comments.’ However, the opposition believed that the comments could not be casually overlooked.
In it, he appears to blame the war in Ukraine on the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, rather than Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is the first step ‘towards an increasingly ambiguous position towards Russia’, says the leader of Italy’s main opposition party. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his former deputy, Enrico Meloni, have been pictured together for the first time since he lost his temper in the Senate last week. Talks are still ongoing on the formation of a new government, with Meloni expected to be confirmed as prime minister by next week.