Italy’s three-time former prime minister, an old friend of Putin’s, is reported to have told a meeting of Forza Italia parliamentarians in Rome on Tuesday that the shipment of vodka was accompanied by a “very sweet letter”.
Forza Italia denied he made the comments, but an audio clip published by La Presse news agency appeared to suggest otherwise.
In the audio reported by La Presse, Berlusconi said he returned Putin’s gesture by sending him bottles of Lambrusco wine.
“Russian ministers have said on several occasions that we are at war with them, because we are providing arms and funding to Ukraine,” Berlusconi allegedly said.
“I can’t personally give my opinion because if it is told to the press it will turn out to be a disaster, but I am very, very, very worried. I re-established relations with President Putin, a little bit. I knew him as a peaceful and sensible person.”
Berlusconi has publicly condemned the war but just days before the elections he told an Italian TV show that Putin was pushed to invade Ukraine by the Russian people and by ministers who wanted Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration replaced with “decent people”.
“Putin was pushed by the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers to invent this special operation,” Berlusconi told Porta a Porta.
“The troops were supposed to enter, reach Kyiv within a week, replace Zelenskiy’s government with decent people and then leave. Instead they found resistance, which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the west.”
Forza Italia is a junior partner in a coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a party with neofascist roots, and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League.
Due to be sworn into government next week, the coalition has pledged to continue Italy’s support of Ukraine and the EU sanctions against Russia over the invasion.