”In Russia they call me by a name I'm very fond of: Silvio Heartstealer,” he told journalists during the Forza Italia party conference in Brescia on Sunday.
Berlusconi then courted controversy by branding the 2014 Crimean referendum “democratic and valid” while recounting he had seen during a recent trip to Crimea with his longstanding political ally, Vladimir Putin.
“I asked Putin to walk among the people without our bodyguards. You should have seen the love and fondness the people had for him – the women threw themselves into his arms, crying and thanking him,” Il Messaggero reported him as saying.
Russia's annexation of Crimea in March last year is one of the most controversial events in recent political history and has been condemned by many world leaders and Nato members as undemocratic.
Masked Russian troops marched into the territory to take up strategic positions before a referendum was called.
“Eighty-seven percent of Crimeans voted – and 93 percent of those chose to join the Russian Federation,” continued Berlusconi – who turns 79 on Tuesday. The media tycoon also criticized western sanctions against Russia as damaging to the Italian economy.
Following his recent visit to Crimea, the Ukrainian government banned Berlusconi from entering the country for three years in the interests of national security.
During his speech Berlusconi also announced his “return to the political scene,” and continued to talk of an alliance with Italy's far-right Northern League.
“In the next few days I'll meet with [Northern League leader] Matteo Salvini,” Berlusconi said, adding that an alliance between the two could change the balance of political power in Italy.
“With me on TV I'm sure we would triumph over the left.”