Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi defended Vladimir Putin ahead of Italy’s snap election on Sunday, saying the Russian president simply wanted to replace Volodymyr Zelensky’s government with “decent people”.
In a prime-time Rai1 interview, the 85-year-old Forza Italia leader said Putin “was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to invent this special operation” . The plan, he said, was for Russian troops to come in “within a week to replace Zelenskyy’s government with a government of decent people.”
However, Berlusconi added, “the Russians found unexpected and unpredictable resistance from Ukrainian troops, who were then fed weapons of all kinds.”
Berlusconi, a longtime friend of Putin, has struggled to stay on point when it comes to the war in Ukraine. Two months after the invasion, in April, he said he was “disappointed and saddened” by Putin. A month later, he said Europe should “try to get Ukrainians to accept Putin’s demands.”
Russia’s influence on Italy’s domestic politics has been a concern throughout the election campaign as a right-wing coalition, which includes Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is expected to win a majority of seats on September 25. .
ELECTION TO THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENT OF ITALY POLL OF POLLS
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Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party who is expected to lead the next government, presents herself as less sympathetic to Putin. She described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an “unacceptable large-scale act of war” and supports military aid to Ukraine.
But the coalition’s third ally, Matteo Salvini de Lega, also has a history of friendship with Putin’s Russia, although he has tried to redefine himself as a champion of Ukrainian refugees.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, the Russian Embassy in Italy boasted of a photo album of many Italian politicians shaking hands with Putin, including Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi, Giuseppe Conte and Paolo Gentiloni. “On the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy. We need to remember,” the caption read.