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Italy affirms support for Ukraine after latest Berlusconi outburst

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Italy affirms support for Ukraine after latest Berlusconi outburst
Meloni has reaffirmed her support for Ukraine after her coalition partner slammed President Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo by JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP.

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Sunday underlined her government's "firm support" for Kyiv after former premier and coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi blasted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Asked about a meeting that took place on Thursday in Brussels between Meloni and Zelensky, Berlusconi replied: "Me talk to Zelensky? If I had been President of the Council, I would never have gone there.

"It was enough for him (Zelensky) to stop attacking the two autonomous republics of Donbas and all this would not have happened, therefore I judge this gentleman's behaviour very, very negatively," Berlusconi told journalists after voting in regional elections in Lombardy.

When Putin began his full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, he said he was "liberating" the two southeastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that form Donbas from Kyiv's control, endorsing the claims of Russian-backed separatists in the area.

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However surveys conducted shortly after the start of the invasion indicated that over 80 percent of people living in territory seized by Russia had a negative view of Moscow.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Meloni slams ‘inappropriate’ French-German dinner with Zelensky

The 86-year-old tycoon, who boasted of being a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin when he was in power, leads the Forza Italia party, a partner in the coalition government led by far-right Meloni.

Berlusconi has been a source of continual embarrassment for the current administration over his pro-Russia stance and close ties to Putin.

Last April, weeks after the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he appeared to distance himself from his longtime ally, saying he was "deeply disappointed" by Putin's actions - prompting the Italian press to declare the "end of a 20-year friendship".

But in September he caused an uproar when he suggested that Putin had been "pushed" by his population and the pro-Russian forces of Donbas to invade Ukraine.

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

A month later Meloni was required to perform further damage control when audio was leaked of Berlusconi saying he had "reconnected" with Putin after the Russian leader sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a "very kind letter" for his birthday.

Third coalition partner Matteo Salvini, leader of the hard-right League party, also has longstanding ties to Putin. Last September he sparked controversy by calling on Europe to "rethink" its sanctions against Russia.

On Sunday, Berlusconi's latest pro-Russian statements swiftly drew a response from Meloni's government which issued a statement stressing its "support for Ukraine is firm and convinced".

Meloni met Zelensky for talks in Brussels on Thursday, discussing the possibility of a visit to Kyiv "being organised".

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