Italian President Berlusconi says Putin was ‘pushed’ into Ukraine war

Italian President Berlusconi says Putin was 'pushed' into Ukraine war

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks during the center-right coalition’s closing election campaign in Piazza del Popolo, ahead of the September 25 general election in Rome, Italy, September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

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  • Russia’s Putin is an old friend of Berlusconi
  • Berlusconi’s right-wing bloc is set to win the September 25 elections
  • Italian leader says Putin envisioned a quick war

ROME (Reuters) – Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Russian President Vladimir Putin “pushed” to invade Ukraine and wanted “respectable people” in charge of Kyiv, drawing harsh criticism ahead of Italy’s elections.

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The Italian leader, whose Forza Italia party belongs to a right-wing coalition expected to win Sunday’s general election, is a longtime friend of Putin and his comments are likely to alarm Western allies. Read more

“Putin was pushed by the Russian people, his party and his ministers to do this special operation,” Berlusconi told Italian public broadcaster Rai late Thursday, using the official Russian language for the war.

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He said Russia’s plan was originally to invade Kyiv “in a week”, replace democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a “government of a respectable people” and exit “in another week”.

“I didn’t even understand why Russian forces were deployed across Ukraine when in my opinion they should have stayed only around Kyiv,” said the 85-year-old Berlusconi, who once described Putin as like a younger brother.

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Putin’s stated war objectives varied during the Seven Months War. Ukraine chased his forces initially from the Kyiv region, and more recently from parts of the northeast near the Russian border. Putin now says the main goal is to secure territory in Ukraine’s Donbas region, which is partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Read more

In the face of widespread condemnation from opponents of his words, Berlusconi issued a statement on Friday saying his views were “exaggerated”.

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustified and unacceptable, and (Forza Italy’s) position is clear. We will always be with the European Union and NATO,” he said.

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Under outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy was a staunch supporter of Western sanctions on Russia in the wake of the invasion.

Giorgia Meloni of the Italian far-right Brotherhood, likely to be the next prime minister, has vowed to hold onto the position, but Berlusconi and her other League ally Matteo Salvini were more ambivalent.

“These are very outrageous and dangerous words,” the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, said of Berlusconi’s remarks. “If the outcome is favorable to the right on Sunday night, Putin will be the happiest person,” Leta told Radio RAI.

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Center leader Carlo Calenda, another candidate in the elections, told Radio 24: “Berlusconi spoke yesterday as if he was Putin’s general. It is absolutely outrageous.”

On Thursday, Berlusconi said Moscow’s decision to invade was in response to an appeal from pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

He said their leaders went to the Kremlin and told Putin directly, “Please defend us, because if you don’t defend us, we don’t know where we might end up.”

Voting began on Friday in four Ukrainian regions mostly controlled by Russian forces including separatists, at the start of Putin’s plan to annex a large part of Ukraine. Read more

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(Reporting by Elvis Armellini); Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Crispian Palmer

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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