SHARE
COPY LINK

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

PROTESTS

IN PICTURES: Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome on Saturday calling for peace in Ukraine and urging Italy to stop sending of weapons to fight the Russian invasion.

IN PICTURES: Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

“No to war. No to sending weapons”, read one large banner carried by protesters, as a vast crowd broke into cries of “give peace a chance”.

People marching on November 5, 2022 in Rome holding a banner reading “Total disarmament and peace now”. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Nato founding member Italy has supported Ukraine from the start of the war, including providing it with arms.

A man takes part in the national peace demonstration by Italian civil society organisations working together in the Europe for Peace coalition, holding a placard reading “no more war, weapons and propaganda”. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

New far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said that will not change and the government has said it is expecting to send more weapons soon.

But some, including former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, have said Italy should be stepping up negotiations instead.

Leader of Italian populist Five Star movement M5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle), Giuseppe Conte (C) marches on November 5, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The peace rally was attended by some 30,000 people, Rome police told Italian media.

“The weapons were sent at the beginning on the grounds that this would prevent an escalation,” demonstrator Roberto Zanotto told AFP.

People hold banners and placards at the march on November 5, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Nine months later and it seems to me that there’s been an escalation. Look at the facts: sending weapons does not help stop a war, weapons help fuel a war.”

Student Sara Gianpietro said the conflict was being dragged out by arming Ukraine, which “has economic consequences for our country, but for the respect of human rights too”.

The Group of Seven foreign ministers, including Italy, on Friday vowed to continue supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russia.

READ ALSO: Q&A: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

SHOW COMMENTS