Former three-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has his own ideas about how the country should deal with the Ukraine war.
Long-time close friend and admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi, has caused a major embarrassment for Premier Giorgia Meloni and discord with Kyiv by saying he had an extremely dim view of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his insistence on trying to claw back the Russian occupied eastern Ukrainian Donbass region after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking Sunday, Berlusconi said he would “never” have met with Zelensky as Italian leader as Meloni did on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels Thursday, saying he had a “very, very negative” view of Zelensky’s conduct in the Russian-prompted war.
“I would not have gone to speak to Zelensky if I had been premier because we are witnessing the devastation of his country and the massacre of his soldiers and civilians,” Berlusconi said after voting in regional elections in Lombardy, the region around Milan.
“It would have been enough for him to stop attacking the two autonomous republics of the Donbass and this would not have occurred, and so I judge very, very negatively the conduct of this gentleman”.
The media billionaire’s statement prompted widespread calls for Meloni, who has staunchly defended Ukraine both before and after becoming Italian premier on September 25, to distance herself from her ally’s stance against Zelensky.
Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak told Rome-based newspaper la Repubblica on Monday that the 86-year-old ex-premier, who has long been a close personal friend of Putin’s and who long claimed to have briefly brought him into the pro-Western fold, was a pro-Putin agitator who was hurting Italy.
“Berlusconi is a VIP agitator who is acting in the interests of Russian propaganda, he is bartering away Italy’s reputation for his friendship with Putin,” said Podolyak. “His words are damaging for Italy”.
The Zelensky advisor added: “He should drop the mask and publicly say he is in favor of the genocide of the Ukrainian people”.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook Monday that “Berlusconi’s senseless accusations against Zelensky are an attempt to kiss Putin’s hands, bloodied up to the elbows.”
Nikolenko said it was “an attempt to show his loyalty to the Russian dictator”.
The chairman of Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (FI) party, Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, said the government’s position was still the same in fully supporting Kyiv and Berlusconi was a man of peace who allegedly had not changed his allegedly pro-Ukrainian stance.
“The government’s position is still the same. Berlusconi is a man of peace, he certainly has not changed his positions in support of Ukraine, NATO and the West. We have always voted the same way and we will continue to vote like this”.