Russian President Vladimir Putin was “pushed” into the invasion Ukraine put “competent people” in charge, the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi he made the controversial claim just days before Italy’s general election in which his party could help form a new government.
The comments by Berlusconi – whose Forza Italia party is part of the right-wing coalition expected to win Sunday’s general election – are likely to unnerve Western allies.
“The Russian people, his party, his ministers forced Putin to prepare this special operation,” Berlusconi told Italian public broadcaster RAI late Thursday, using the official Russian term for the war.
RussiaHis plan was originally to conquer Kyiv “within a week” and replace democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a “government of decent people” and leave “within another week,” he said.
“I didn’t even understand why Russian troops spread across Ukraine, when in my opinion they should have stayed only around Kiev,” said the 85-year-old.
Political rivals immediately reacted to the comments, forcing Berlusconi into a partial downfall.
“These are scandalous and very serious words,” said center-left Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta. “If the result goes in favor of the right on Sunday night, Putin would be the happiest.”
Center leader Carlo Calenda, another candidate in the election, told Radio24: “Yesterday Berlusconi spoke like Putin’s general. This is absolutely outrageous.”
The Italian veteran issued a statement on Friday saying his views were “too simplistic”.
“The aggression against Ukraine is inexcusable and unacceptable, the (Forza Italia) position is clear. We will always be with the EU and NATO,” said Berlusconi.
He and Putin were close friends in the past, and the Italian once described the Russian as a younger brother.
In 2015, he claimed that Putin is “undoubtedly number 1 among world leaders”.
However, it is earlier this year Berlusconi said he was “deeply disappointed and saddened” by Putin’s actions.
Thursday’s statements by Berlusconi highlight a potential rift Italyright-wing coalition.
Under Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy strongly supported Western sanctions against Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine.
Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy, who is tipped to be Italy’s next leader, has vowed to stand by that position, but Berlusconi and her other ally Matteo Salvini were more ambivalent.