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Berlusconi says he 'reconnected' with Putin

October 19, 2022

In a secretly taped speech, the former Italian premier said he exchanged alcoholic gifts and "sweet" letters with the Russian leader. Berlusconi's Forza Italia party was one of the key winners in the recent election.

Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi speak with each other in 2015, with Berlusconi's hand on Putin's shoulder
Putin and Berlusconi have had a friendly history together, as seen here in 2015Image: Mikhail Metzel/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he "reconnected" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a secretly taped speech obtained by Italy's LaPresse news agency.

Berlusconi's comments have caused a stir among the Italian media and public, raising concerns that Italy's possible new governing coalition could grow closer to Moscow.

What did Berlusconi say in the recording?

"I have reconnected with President Putin," Berlusconi said Tuesday to parliament members of his center-right Forza Italia party. "He sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a really sweet letter for my birthday."

Berlusconi recently celebrated his 86th birthday on September 29, shortly after Forza Italia and other right-wing Italian parties were victorious in the Italian general election.

"I responded with 20 bottles of Lambrusco [a sparkling Italian red wine] and a similarly sweet letter," Berlusconi continued.    

The former Italian prime minister also made excuses for Russia's war on Ukraine in the recording. He claimed the West is already at war with Russia because it is "giving Ukraine weapons and money."

After the audiotape was released, Forza Italia released a statement saying its position on the Ukrainian conflict and Russian responsibilities "is in line with the position of Europe and the United States."

Will Italy's new government be softer on Moscow?

The remarks raised concerns that a new possible right-wing coalition under Brothers of Italy (FdI) leader Giorgia Meloni could be softer on Moscow than the former technocratic government under Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

"The new majority is in the process of dangerously shifting Italy's position on Russia toward ambiguity," said Enrico Letta, the head of the center-left Democratic Party.

Meloni has previously said she stands with Ukraine. Yet, the new remarks from Berlusconi are the latest sign that Meloni may come under pressure from within her coalition to seek warmer ties with Moscow.   

Far-right heading for power after Italy vote

wd/rs (AP, Reuters, dpa)