Italy: Berlusconi “reconnects” with Putin and causes unease in the coalition

Silvio Berlusconi drew a volley of green wood on Wednesday in Italy after saying he was “reconnecting” with Vladimir Putin who sent him vodka for his birthday, and blaming kyiv for the invasion of Ukraine. “Berlusconi freewheeling”, “Berlusconi without brake”, and even, for La Repubblica, Giorgia “Meloni hostage of the pro-Russians”: the Italian press on Wednesday gave a wide echo of the confidences made this week by the billionaire to deputies of his party, Forza Italia.

Berlusconi disrupts consultations on new government

With his pro-Putin statements, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stole the show on Thursday from President Sergio Mattarella, who began his consultations for the formation of the government which should be led by Giorgia Meloni.

The discussions that Sergio Mattarella is conducting with the main institutional players (presidents of the chambers, heads of parliamentary groups, etc.) have been overshadowed by the storm aroused by the remarks of Berlusconi, who claimed to have “reconnected” with Vladimir Putin and imputed in kyiv the responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine. His Forza Italia party is part of the coalition led by Ms. Meloni, leader of Fratelli d’Italia, the far-right party that won the elections with 26% of the vote.

Berlusconi claims he is Putin’s ‘first of five true friends’

His words were leaked and those around him initially denied it, but an audio recording was then released, shocking Giorgia Meloni, the future Prime Minister who is working to form a government with her coalition allies, Forza. Italia by Silvio Berlusconi and the League by Matteo Salvini.

“I reconnected with President Putin a little, a little a lot, in the sense that for my birthday, Putin sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very nice letter. I responded by sending him bottles from Lambrusco and a very nice letter. He told me that I was the first of his five true friends”, continued the former head of government who celebrated his 86th birthday on September 29. Hastily, Forza Italia issued a statement to clarify the position of the party and Silvio Berlusconi vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine, “in line with that of Europe and the United States”.

Antonio Tajani’s position weakened

The leftist opposition went wild. “It’s not folklore, it’s not jokes. The new majority is initiating a change in Italy’s trajectory towards an increasingly ambiguous position towards Russia”, denounced Enrico Letta, the boss of the Party. Democrat, on Twitter. The – recurrent – statements of Silvio Berlusconi could weaken the position of Antonio Tajani, a close, pro-European, approached for Foreign Affairs.

Giorgia Meloni’s entourage tried to calm things down. “I would avoid involving Tajani,” Francesco Lollobrigida, a deputy for Fratelli d’Italia, said on Wednesday. “He was president of the European Parliament (…) and always defended the Western alliance” after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, he underlined. But for other sources within Fratelli d’Italia, quoted by the daily La Stampa“Berlusconi may have killed Tajani”.

Already controversial remarks during the electoral campaign

During the election campaign, Berlusconi had already provoked outrage by claiming that Vladimir Putin had wanted to overthrow the kyiv government to put “good people” in its place. In the rest of this audio recording, a new part of which leaked on Wednesday evening, he seems to blame the war on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who, according to him, “has tripled the attacks” against the self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donbass.

“In 2014 in Minsk, Belarus, an agreement is signed between Ukraine and the two newly formed republics in the Donbass for a peace agreement and that no one attacks anyone. A year later, Ukraine throws nettles this agreement and begins to attack the borders of the two republics”, says Silvio Berlusconi to his elected officials. He evokes “five-six-seven thousand dead” in these fights. Then “Zelensky comes (to power) and triples the attacks on the two republics”, adds the tycoon, later repeating his comments at the end of September that Putin was “pushed” by his population and his entourage to invade Ukraine .

Faced with the outcry raised by these latest statements, Silvio Berlusconi made a point of specifying in a press release that his “personal position and that of Forza Italia do not deviate from that of the Italian government, the European Union, the Atlantic Alliance neither on the crisis in Ukraine nor on the other major subjects of international politics”. He also stressed that it would be “impossible to achieve peace if Ukraine’s rights are not adequately protected”.

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