Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi was forced to clarify on Friday remarks about long-time friend Vladimir Putin after suggesting the Russian leader was “pushed” by his entourage into invading Ukraine.
The 85-year-old former prime minister’s party is expected to return to power following Italian general elections on Sunday as a junior 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 Thursday.
He said a delegation of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region went to Moscow to appeal for help against what they claimed were attacks by Ukrainian forces.
“Putin was pushed by the Russian population, by his party, by his ministers, to invent this special operation… to enter and within a week reach Kyiv, replace the (Volodymyr) Zelensky government with good people and in another week go back,” Berlusconi said.
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”.
Berlusconi has long been friends with Putin. The other member of his alliance with Meloni, League leader Matteo Salvini, has in the past often expressed admiration for the Russian president.
Meloni strongly supports, however, the policy of the outgoing Italian government in sending weapons to Ukraine and backing Western sanctions against Russia.
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