Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is feeling misunderstood a day after statements he made about Russia’s war on Ukraine triggered outrage.
“All this has been taken out of context. It has been spread without knowing the global meaning of my words, with the sole aim of spreading slander and disinformation,” said Mr Berlusconi, who heads Italy’s conservative Forza Italia party.
He said he had not intended to justify the Russian invasion, in comments to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
On the contrary, Mr Berlusconi said, he condemns the war, and shares the same stance as the Italian government, the EU and the Atlantic alliance.
His comments came after LaPresse news agency published on Wednesday parts of an audio recording of Mr Berlusconi addressing members of his party on Tuesday.
During the recording, Mr Berlusconi said Ukraine had violated the 2014 Minsk peace agreement with “attacks” on what he termed the “newly founded republics in Donbass.”
Mr Berlusconi said these entities had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help and that Mr Putin was facing significant pressure from all over Russia.
Mr Putin, according to Mr Berlusconi, then gave in and sent Russian troops into Ukraine, whereupon he faced the “unexpected and unpredictable situation of resistance from the Ukrainians, who received funds and weapons from the West from the third day,” he said.
Italy’s centre-left parties criticised his comments.
Giorgia Meloni, head of the far-right Brothers of Italy party and who is widely expected to become prime minister within days, said Italy is “fully and with its head held high part of Europe and the old Atlantic alliance. Anyone who should not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government.”
She won the elections with a right-wing coalition that includes Mr Berlusconi’s party and lawmakers are currently negotiating over ministerial posts.
Days before the Italian elections, Mr Berlusconi, who long hesitated to condemn the war, claimed that Mr Putin was forced to invade Ukraine, fuelling concerns that Italy may no longer support Kiev once the new Meloni-led government takes office.
In the comments published by LaPresse, Mr Berlusconi also mentioned that Mr Putin had sent him “20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter” for his birthday, on September 29.
That gift likely violates the European Union’s sanctions on Russia, a European Commission spokesperson told dpa.
The EU extended a ban on the import of Russian goods into the EU to include spirits, including vodka, in April. The legal situation does not provide for an exemption for gifts, the spokesperson said.
EU member states are responsible for implementing the EU sanctions. The next step is for the Italian authorities to determine who is responsible for the alleged breach of sanctions.
The European Commission does not examine individual cases of how sanctions are applied, the spokesperson said.
She said any breaches of sanctions could be reported to the national authorities or anonymously through the EU’s whistleblower tool.