Former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi has defended Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the Russian leader was “pushed” into the conflict by his party and the Russian populace.
The 85-year-old who is close friends with Putin, 69, said Russian troops were meant to replace the government of Kyiv within a week with “decent people” and then leave.
Berlusconi, a three-time Italian PM, is a long-term ally of the Russian president and this weekend his party is expected to take power as part of a right-wing coalition in a general election in Italy.
According to Berlusconi, a narrative alleging the Ukrainian government was slaughtering Russian speakers in the east of the country was created by the media in Moscow
Speaking to Italian TV, Berlusconi said the reporting was pushed by separatist forces and nationalist politicians in the Russian government and left Putin with no choice but to launch a limited invasion.
“Putin was pushed by the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers to invent this special operation,” he said.
“The troops were supposed to enter, reach Kyiv in a week, replace the Zelensky government with decent people and a week later come back,” Mr Berlusconi added on Thursday, September 22.
“Instead they found an unexpected resistance, which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West.”
Opposition leaders in Italy were quick to condemn Mr Berlusconi’s comments, with Centrist Party leader Carlo Calenda accusing him of speaking “like a Putin general”.
Enrico Letta of the centre-left Democratic Party said the intervention proved if Sunday’s election is “favourable to the right, the happiest person would be Putin”.
But on Friday, September 23, Berlusconi clarified his comments, saying his views had been “oversimplified” .
“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable, [Forza Italia’s] position is clear. We will always be with the EU and Nato,” he said.
Berlusconi has long been an admirer of Mr Putin, in 2012 joining the then-prime minister for a skiing trip in the Russian city of Sochi.