Silvio Berlusconi, a former Italian premier, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “pushed” into invading Ukraine and sought to install “decent people” in Kyiv, sparking strong criticism just ahead Italy’s election.
The Italian leader, whose Forza Italia party is part of a right-wing coalition that is expected to win the general election on Sunday, is a long-time Putin buddy, and his remarks will undoubtedly disturb Western allies.
“Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this special operation,” Berlusconi told Italian public television RAI late on Thursday, using the official Russian wording for the war. Russia’s plan was originally to conquer Kyiv “in a week”, and replace the democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy with “a government of decent people” and get out “in another week,” he said.
The 85-year-old Berlusconi, who previously equated Putin to a younger brother, added, “I haven’t even understood why Russian troops spread around Ukraine while in my mind they should have only stuck around Kyiv.”
Throughout the seven-month war, Putin’s stated military objectives have changed. Initially, Ukraine pursued his forces out of the Kyiv region, and more recently, out of areas of the northeast close to the Russian border. Putin now claims that the major objective is to secure land in the Donbas area of Ukraine, which is partially held by pro-Russian separatists.
As a result of the harsh criticism he received from opponents, Berlusconi issued a statement on Friday claiming that his opinions had been “oversimplified”.
“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable, (Forza Italia’s) position is clear. We will always be with the EU and NATO,” he said.