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.
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.
Berlusconi a #portaaporta:"Putin è caduto in una situazione difficile", "è stato spinto a inventarsi questa operazione speciale".
E questa sarebbe la parte moderata del centrodestra? pic.twitter.com/qNuMMpKLoq
— Pietro Raffa (@pietroraffa) September 23, 2022
“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.
“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.
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.