ROME—Despite condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Italy’s long-serving politician Silvio Berlusconi has spoken out about rekindling his most unusual bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Berlusconi, who has just been voted back into power as part of a far-right coalition set to take office this month, was caught on audio tape admitting that despite criticizing Putin after the invasion began, he accepted a birthday present from him on his 86th birthday on Sept. 29.
“I have reconnected with President Putin,” Berlusconi said, according to an audio tape that has circulated in Italian media. “He sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a really sweet letter for my birthday. I responded with 20 bottles of Lambrusco and a similarly sweet letter.”
Berlusconi previously appeared to defend Moscow in the audio recording, noting that Russian ministers have complained about being on the outs with Italians “because we’re giving Ukraine weapons and financing.”
“I personally cannot express my opinion, because if I tell it to the press, there will be a catastrophe, but I am very, very, very worried,” he was quoted saying in Russian media.
It is not, of course, the first time the two leaders have exchanged gifts during their high-profile friendship. Berlusconi also gifted a bizarre duvet featuring a portrait of the two leaders to the Russian president for his birthday in 2017.
And it is hard to forget the infamous sex scandal when admitted escort, Patrizia D’Addario, taped Berlusconi telling her to, “Wait for me on the big bed. Putin’s, the one with the curtains.”
Putin’s daughters were also hosted on a yacht by Berlusconi’s Russian-speaking daughter Barbara in 2002, and the Italian leader has also been a guest at Putin’s Black Sea resort many times before the invasion. So close were the two men that they were the subject of a number of Wikileaks cables, in which the U.S. wrote, “Berlusconi admires Putin’s macho, decisive, and authoritarian governing style, which the Italian PM believes matches his own.”
Berlusconi’s camp denied the two had rekindled, and a spokesman told The Daily Beast that Berlusconi supports his coalition partners in their desire to continue to support Ukraine, but shortly before the Sep. 25 election, Berlusconi told an Italian television talk show that Putin was being vilified.
“The troops were supposed to enter, reach Kyiv within a week, replace Zelenskyy’s government with decent people and then leave,” he said. His party released a statement backtracking. “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,” his party said in a statement on their website. “There are no margins of ambiguity, nor have there ever been.”
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