Putin was ‘Pushed’ to Try to ‘Replace the Zelensky Govt with Decent People’ – Berlusconi

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Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has courted controversy on the eve of the Italian elections by saying that Russian president Vladimir Putin was “pushed” into war with Ukraine.

“Putin was pushed by the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers to invent this special operation,” the three-time Italian premier claimed on Italian television, in comments quoted by the BBC.

“The troops were supposed to enter, reach Kyiv in a week, replace the Zelensky government with decent people and a week later come back,” he claimed — an implied criticism of Volodymyr Zelensky which may prove to be the most controversial part of his statement.

“Instead they found an unexpected resistance, which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West,” he added.

The colourful 85-year-old is the most junior member, at least in terms of likely vote share, of a right-populist coalition comprised of his Forza Italia party, Matteo Salvini’s League (Lega), and Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. This coalition is the pollsters’ favourite to win the Italian election this weekend.

Berlusconi’s comments on the Russo-Ukrainian war, in which Italy’s current technocratic government and the European Union establishment as a whole have come down firmly on Kyiv’s side, is therefore likely to be seized upon by the coalition’s leftist rivals.

He attempted to clarify on Friday by saying that the “aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable” and that Forza Italia “will always be with the EU and NATO” – but the Italian Democratic Party (PD) has already used his words to argue “the happiest person would be Putin” if the right-populists do win the election this weekend.

Salvini, the biggest player on the Italian right before Meloni — if the polls are correct — usurped him during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, has also been accused of being unduly sympathetic to Russia, and has suggested that he does not support continuing the sanctions war with Moscow if the associated energy and cost of living crisis appears to be hurting Italian citizens more than Putin.

Meloni, however, is strongly for Ukraine.

Should she, Salvini, and Belusconi win office, it will represent an enormous shift within the European Union.

While Italy is not so influential within the EU as the Franco-German axis which has long set the bloc’s agenda, it is still one of its biggest economies, and a founder-member of its predecessor organisations. It may prove much harder to sideline than the national conservative governments in Poland and Hungary, for example.

All three right-wing leaders are strongly eurosceptic, and committed to a serious crackdown on mass migration.

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