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Berlusconi in fresh row over Putin ties following leaked audio

The Local Italy
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Berlusconi in fresh row over Putin ties following leaked audio
Silvio Berlusconi was recorded describing how he had rekindled ties with Putin. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi was under fresh scrutiny on Wednesday over his friendship with Vladimir Putin after being recorded describing a birthday present of vodka from the Russian leader and expressing concerns about arming Ukraine.

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Aides insisted he had been misrepresented but the row risks embarrassing Berlusconi's coalition allies, led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, as they prepare to form a new government following last month's elections.

Meloni strongly supports Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia, but both Berlusconi and her other coalition ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, have both long had warm ties with Moscow.

"Meloni hostage of pro-Russians," headlined Wednesday's La Repubblica newspaper, while other reports described her private outrage at what is only the latest gaffe from the billionaire media mogul.

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A recording emerged late Tuesday of Berlusconi recounting how he had rekindled ties with President Putin, an old friend.

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

Italian online news agency LaPresse said the comments came during a meeting of his Forza Italia party lawmakers this week.

"I reconnected a little bit with President Putin... for my birthday he sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very kind letter," he said, according to the tape published by LaPresse.

"I responded with bottles of Lambrusco (red wine) and an equally sweet letter."

A spokesman for Berlusconi, who turned 86 last month, denied he had rekindled relations with Putin, saying Berlusconi had been telling parliamentarians an "old story relating to an episode dating back many years."


Putin 'person of peace'

Immediately preceding the anecdote, Berlusconi can be heard describing his concerns about sending weapons and cash to support Ukraine.

According to LaPresse, Berlusconi also described Putin as a "person of peace", although this was not included in the audio published.

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

A senior Forza Italia lawmaker, Alessandro Cattaneo, said Wednesday that Berlusconi's comments had been taken out of context, adding: "Soundbites can be copied and pasted."

Forza Italia also emphasised its support for the EU-US policy on Ukraine.

Berlusconi said in April he was "deeply disappointed" by Putin's behaviour in Ukraine.

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But in September, he was forced to clarify remarks suggesting the president was "pushed" into the invasion by his entourage.

A close aide to Meloni, senior Brothers of Italy lawmaker Francesco Lollobrigida, told reporters Wednesday: "We remain with the Ukrainian people and in defence of democracy in that country, but also fiercely in the Western
axis... Regarding the comments of others, you must ask others."

READ ALSO: What role will Berlusconi play in Italy’s new government?

Talks are still ongoing on the formation of a new government, with Meloni expected to be confirmed as prime minister by the end of next week.

But the process has been rocky.

Berlusconi lost his temper in the Senate last week, later admitting "deep annoyance" in his party over coalition discussions on how to share out ministerial posts.

But he and Meloni had a meeting on Monday to clear the air, afterwards issuing a photo of the pair smiling.

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Anonymous 2022/10/20 19:21
I fully agree with Berlusconi.

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