Berlusconi’s controversial statements justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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The Russian President, Vladimir Putinwas “pushed” to invade Ukraine and wanted to put “decent people” in charge of kyivsaid former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconidrawing strong criticism just before the Italian elections.

The Italian leader, whose party forza italy belongs to one right wing coalition who is expected to win the general election on Sunday, he is a long time friend of Putin and his comments are likely to alarm Western allies.

“Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers, to raise this special operation,” Berlusconi told Italian public television. RAI late on Thursday, using the official Russian expression to refer to the war.

Russia’s plan was originally to conquer kyiv “in a week”, and replace the democratically elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyfor “a government of decent people” and leave “in another week,” he said.

“I have not even understood why the Russian troops spread into Ukraine, when in my opinion they should only have stayed around kyiv,” said Berlusconi, 85, who once described Putin as a younger brother.

Putin’s declared war aims have varied during the seven months of war. Ukraine initially expelled its troops from the kyiv area, and more recently from parts of the northeast near the Russian border. Now, Putin says that the main objective is to secure the territory of the Donbás regionpartly controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Facing widespread condemnation from his opponents, Berlusconi issued a statement on Friday saying his views had been “oversimplified.”

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable, the position (of Forza Italia) is clear. We will always stand with the EU and NATO,” he said.

The leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Lettahe commented to RAI radio, “these are scandalous and very serious words (…) If on Sunday night the result is favorable to the right, the happiest person would be Putin.”

the centrist leader carlor Calendar, another candidate for the elections, said on Radio24: “Yesterday Berlusconi spoke like a general Putin. He is totally outrageous.”

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

Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, which is shaping up to be the next prime minister, has promised to stick to that position, but her allies Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini of the League have been more ambivalent.

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