Berlusconi caused backlash for saying Putin was ‘forced’ to invade Ukraine

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin was “driven” to invade Ukraine, remarks that drew fierce criticism days before the election.

Mr. Berlusconi, 85, is running in a supported right-wing coalition Sunday’s vote and his allies have praised the policies of controversial European leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Since his invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Berlusconi has not appeared particularly supportive of his longtime friend, Mr. Putin.

But during an appearance on a talk show on Thursday night, Mr Berlusconi said, “Putin has been pushed by the Russian people, his party, his ministers to launch this particular activity. ” – used the Russian leader’s preferred expression for war.

Mr Berlusconi said that Russian forces were supposed to enter Ukraine and the capital Kyiv for a week to topple the government and bring “nice people” to power before returning to Russia.

“But they were met with unexpected and unpredictable resistance from the Ukrainian military,” he said, noting that Western nations have been supplying Ukraine with weapons.

“I don’t even understand why Russian troops are spilling over Ukraine when in my mind they should just hang around Kyiv,” he said calmly.

With Italy set to vote on Sunday in national elections, political condemnation of Mr. Berlusconi’s perception of Putin’s protection has been swift.

Enrico Letta, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, called Mr Berlusconi’s words “scandalous and very serious”.

Mr Letta told Italy’s national broadcaster, RAI: ​​”If on Sunday night the outcome is favorable to the right, the happiest person will be Putin.

Mr. Berlusconi, who wore a fur hat with Mr. Putin in his chalet in Sochi, has condemned the violence in Ukraine but has been reluctant to directly criticize his old friend since the invasion in late February.

After his remarks caused an uproar on Friday, Mr Berlusconi wrote on Twitter that his words were taken out of context. He said his position – and that of his party, Forza Italia – was “with the European Union and NATO.”

The current Italian government has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supported Ukraine’s application to join the European Union and shipped arms to the country.

Nationalist political leaders, however, tended to echo Kremlin lines on the war. Giorgia Meloni, leader of Italy’s far-right Brotherhood who is widely expected to become the next prime minister, has been a steadfast and outspoken supporter of Ukraine throughout the war – partly for reassurance. international audience that she is a trustworthy person and acceptable options.

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