Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has defended Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the Russian leader was “pushed” into the conflict, the BBC reports.
The 85-year-old said Russian troops needed to replace the government with “decent people” and then leave.
The three-time Italian prime minister is a long-term ally of the Russian president.
This weekend, his party is expected to take power as part of a right-wing coalition in Italy’s general election.
Berlusconi told Italian television that a narrative that the Ukrainian government had massacred Russian-speakers in the east of the country had been created by the Moscow media.
He said that this narrative, promoted by separatist forces and nationalist politicians in the Russian government, left Putin no choice but to launch a limited invasion.
“Putin was pushed by the Russian people, his party and his ministers to invent this particular operation,” he said.
“The troops should have gone in, reached Kyiv in a week, replaced the Zelenski government with decent people and a week later returned,” Berlusconi added.
“Instead, they found an unexpected resistance, which was then fed with weapons of all kinds from the West.”
Berlusconi has long been an admirer of Putin, in 2012 joining the then-prime minister on a ski trip to the Russian city of Sochi.
But in April, he condemned the invasion and said he was “deeply disappointed and saddened” by Putin’s behavior, adding that “the massacres of civilians in Bucha and other localities are true war crimes.”
The leader of the Forza Italia party is currently campaigning in a right-wing coalition ahead of Sunday’s general election.
His center-right party is the junior partner in the alliance, which is anchored by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party and Matteo Salvini’s populist Lega Nord party. Polls suggested the bloc would win a majority.
Despite Berlusconi’s past friendship with Putin and Salvini’s criticism of Western sanctions against Russia, Meloni, who is expected to lead any potential government, has vowed to continue Italy’s support for Ukraine.
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“The war in Ukraine is the tip of the iceberg of a conflict aimed at reshaping the world order. So we have to fight this battle,” she said earlier this month.