Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi said he’s exchanged letters and gifts with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to audio obtained by an Italian newswire, underscoring how the country’s new governing coalition may come under pressure from within to soften its support for Ukraine.
“Putin sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter for my birthday,” Berlusconi, 86, said in an audio recording of remarks delivered at a meeting with lawmakers, which was posted online by Italian newswire LaPresse on Tuesday. It didn’t say when the recording was made, though Berlusconi’s birthday was Sept. 29.
Berlusconi’s words add to the concerns of right-wing leader, Giorgia Meloni, who is negotiating cabinet posts with Berlusconi and other allies after her bloc’s victory in elections last month, faces internal pressure to soften her stance on Russia.
In remarks broadcast on national television Tuesday, Chamber of Deputies Speaker Lorenzo Fontana said sanctions against Russia could “boomerang.” Fontana, who is a member of the League party, another key Meloni ally, is known for his pro-Russia views. Meloni has said she supports sending aid and weapons to Ukraine.
Berlusconi, a former premier and leader of the Forza Italia party, said he sent back to Putin an “equally sweet letter” and bottles of Lambrusco wine. Berlusconi also said he’s “very, very, very concerned” about statements by Russian ministers that “we are at war with them because we supply weapons and financing to Ukraine.”
While Meloni hasn’t officially commented on Berlusconi’s words, according to Corriere della Sera she complained that they would make her life more difficult.
A spokesman for Forza Italia denied Berlusconi had renewed contact with Putin, saying he was “telling lawmakers an old story about an episode from several years ago.” In the audio Berlusconi refers to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Berlusconi’s party also released a statement saying Berlusconi’s position with respect to Ukraine is “known by all, and is in line” with that of Europe and the U.S. That stance “has been reiterated in many, many public occasions. There is no and there never has been any space for ambiguity.”
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