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Italy’s incoming PM Meloni issues warning to Berlusconi following glowing remarks toward Putin

Italy’s presumed next prime minister sent a warning to Italian politician and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after warm comments he made directed toward Russian President Vladimir Putin

“Italy will never be the weak link of the West with us in government,” Giorgia Meloni said in a statement directed toward her potential conservative coalition ally, Silvio Berlusconi, who recently boasted in leaked audio about reconnecting with Putin.

“I have reconnected with President Putin, a little, a lot,” Berlusconi was heard saying in comments recorded and released by the LaPresse News Agency. “He sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a really sweet letter for my birthday. I responded with 20 bottles of Lambrusco (a sparkling Italian red wine) and a similarly sweet letter.”

LaPresse also posted audio of Berlusconi criticizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and explaining that Putin’s “special operation” was supposed to have lasted just two weeks to install a “decent, sensible” government in Kyiv.

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However, thanks to “unexpected and unforeseen” Ukrainian resistance, along with funding and weapons from the West that arrived “on Day 3, a special operation that was supposed to have lasted two weeks has become a war that will last some 200-plus years,” Berlusconi said.

“Italy, with its head high, is part of Europe and the (NATO) Atlantic alliance,” Meloni added. “Whoever doesn’t agree with this cornerstone cannot be part of the government, at the cost of not having a government.”

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Berlusconi’s comments added to the political upheaval in Italy, as Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party won the most votes in the Sept. 25 election, attempts to put together a cabinet. She is expected to get a mandate to form Italy’s next government as early as Friday.

Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, the junior partner in her political coalition, is gunning for the foreign ministry at a time when Meloni and the EU have strongly backed Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. 

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Berlusconi’s office attempted to back away from the comments about the birthday vodka in a statement Tuesday, saying the 86-year-old former prime minister had not restarted relations with Putin, and that he “told an old story to lawmakers about an episode that occurred years ago.”

“The position of Forza Italia and President Silvio Berlusconi with respect to the Ukrainian conflict and Russian responsibilities is known to all and is in line with the position of Europe and the United States, reaffirmed on several public occasions,” the Forza Italia party said in a statement.

Berlusconi and Putin have a long and often friendly history including an instance where the Italian politician hosted Putin at his Sardinian villa and another meeting between the two in Crimea in 2014 after Putin annexed the peninsula from Ukraine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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