Putin was ‘pushed’ into the Ukraine war, says Italy’s Berlusconi

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Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks during the final campaign rally of the center-right coalition in Piazza del Popolo ahead of the September 25 general election in Rome, Italy, September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

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  • Russia’s Putin is a longtime friend of Berlusconi
  • Berlusconi’s right-wing bloc is set to win the September 25 election
  • The Italian leader says Putin foresaw a quick war

ROME, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin was “pushed” to invade Ukraine and wanted to put “decent people” in charge of Kiev, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said, drawing fierce criticism just ahead of Italy’s elections.

The Italian leader, whose Forza Italia party is part of a right-wing coalition expected to win Sunday’s general election, is a long-time friend of Putin and his comments are likely to alarm Western allies. Read more

“Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this particular operation,” Berlusconi told Italian public broadcaster RAI late Thursday, using the official Russian wording for the war.

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Russia’s plan was initially to capture Kiev “in a week” and replace democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy with “a government of decent people” and get out “in another week,” he said.

“I didn’t even understand why Russian troops spread around Ukraine, when in my mind they should have just stuck around Kiev,” said the 85-year-old Berlusconi, who once described Putin as being like a younger brother.

Putin’s stated war aims have varied during the seven-month war. Ukraine initially chased its troops from the Kyiv area and more recently from parts of the northeast near the Russian border. Putin now says the main objective is to secure territory in Ukraine’s Donbas region, which is partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Read more

Met with widespread condemnation from opponents for his words, Berlusconi released a statement on Friday saying his views had been “oversimplified”.

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustified and unacceptable, (Forza Italia’s) position is clear. We will always be with the EU and NATO,” he said.

“ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING”

Under outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy has been a staunch supporter of Western sanctions against Russia following the invasion.

Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy, tipped to be the next prime minister, has vowed to hold on to that position, but Berlusconi and her fellow ally Matteo Salvini of the League have been more ambivalent.

“These are scandalous and very serious words,” the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, said of Berlusconi’s statements. “If the result on Sunday night is positive to the right, the happiest person would be Putin,” Letta said on RAI radio.

Center leader Carlo Calenda, another election candidate, told Radio24: “Yesterday Berlusconi spoke like a Putin general. It’s completely scandalous.”

Berlusconi said Thursday that Moscow’s decision to invade came in response to an appeal by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

He said their leaders had gone to the Kremlin and directly told Putin, “please defend us, because if you don’t defend us, we don’t know where we can end up.”

Voting began Friday in four Ukrainian regions mostly held by Russian forces, including the separatists, the start of a plan by Putin to annex much of Ukraine. Read more

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Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Crispian Balmer

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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