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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi was forced to clarify on Friday remarks about long-time friend Vladimir Putin after saying the Russian leader was "pushed" into a "special operation".

Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin's invasion of Ukraine
Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi (centre), set to return to government with Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, backtracked on Friday after defending Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The sympathetic remarks caused outrage and concern as the 85-year-old former prime minister’s party is expected to return to power following Italian general elections on Sunday as a partner in a government led by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy.

“Putin has fallen into a truly difficult and dramatic situation,” Berlusconi told Rai television late on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Russian embassy highlights Italian political ties ahead of vote

Berlusconi, who is known for his longstanding friendship with Russia’s president, described Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation”.

He said Putin was “pushed” into it by “the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers”

Russian troops were supposed to enter Kyiv and “replace the Zelensky government with decent people,” Berlusoni added.

“Instead they found an unexpected resistance which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West.”

His comments sparked an outcry in Italy, prompting the former premier to insist he was misunderstood and had just been reporting what others had said.

READ ALSO: Italy’s newspapers warn of Russian ‘interference’ in election

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable,” he said in a statement on Friday, offering his support for the EU and NATO.

Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, called his comments “scandalous”.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer on Friday said the EC had no comment on Berlusconi’s statement.

The other member of his alliance with Meloni, League leader Matteo Salvini, has often expressed admiration for the Russian president and recently criticised EU sanctions.

Meloni insists that she strongly supports the policy of the outgoing Italian government in sending weapons to Ukraine and backing Western sanctions against Russia.

However, Meloni is known for changing her political stance and, like Berlusconi and Salvini, in 2014 said that she supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

His statement sparked fears that the new government would change Italy’s stance on Russia, returning to friendly relations with Moscow – as had long been the case under a series of governments before Mario Draghi became PM in 2021.

READ ALSO: Berlusconi’s messy break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

Draghi is strongly in favour of NATO, the EU, and sanctions over Ukraine, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But some of Italy’s major parties – Forza Italia, the League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – have long pursued a special relationship with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and has long maintained close business and political ties with Russia.

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ENERGY

Russia suspends gas to Italy after ‘problem’ in Austria

Russia's Gazprom has suspended gas deliveries to Italy's Eni, blaming a transport problem in Austria, the Italian energy giant said on Saturday.

Russia suspends gas to Italy after 'problem' in Austria

“Gazprom told us that it was not able to confirm the delivery of the volumes demanded for today, citing the impossibility of gas transport through Austria,” Eni said in a statement.

As a result, “Russian gas flows to Eni via the Tarvisio entry point will be naught”, it said.

In a statement published on Telegram, Gazprom said the problem was due to regulatory changes in Austria that took place at the end of September and that it was working with Italian customers to resolve the issue.

According to Gazprom, the Austrian gas grid operator had refused to confirm the transport nominations.

In Austria, regulatory authority E-Control said the new rules, which entered into force on Saturday, had been “known to all market actors for months”.

It said it expected “all to conform and take the necessary measures to fulfil their obligations”.

The problems were related to “contractual details” linked to the transit of gas towards Italy, it said on Twitter, adding in response to a tweeted question that this currently had “no effect” on users in Austria.

Most of Russian gas delivered to Italy passes via Ukraine through the Trans Austria Gas Pipeline (TAG), to Tarvisio in northern Italy on the border with Austria.

Before the war in Ukraine, Italy imported 95 percent of the gas it consumes — about 45 percent of which came from Russia.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi has signed new deals with other gas producers to reduce Italy’s reliance on Russia, lowered to 25 percent as of June, while accelerating a shift towards renewable energies.

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