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Italian Berlusconi brags about his friendship with Putin in leaked audio recording

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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sparked controversy when an audio recording released by Italian news agency LaPresse this week revealed that the 86-year-old was talking about his “re-established” relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi says in the tape that Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet letter” on his birthday last month.

His office confirmed with CNN on Thursday — apparently secretly recorded during a meeting of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party in the parliamentary chamber on Tuesday.

“I sent him a bottle of Lambrusco (Italian sparkling wine) and an equally sweet letter,” Berlusconi says in the LaPresse audio clip.

He also says he’s “re-established a relationship with President Putin” and continues to boast that the Russian leader calls himself “the first of his five true friends.”

A party spokesman denied that Berlusconi had been in contact with Putin and said the former prime minister had told parliamentarians “an old story referring to an event many years ago”.

However, in the LaPresse audio file, Berlusconi can be heard saying that Putin is “against any attempt” for a war against Ukraine.

While Berlusconi is expected to be part of the new coalition government led by the ultra-conservative Giorgia Meloni in Italy, which is adamant in its support for Ukraine, the comments raised eyebrows among Ukraine observers.

Berlusconi is also heard speaking to members of his party and blaming Ukraine for the invasion of Russia: “In 2014, a peace agreement was signed between Ukraine and the two newly formed Donbass republics in Minsk, Belarus. Nobody is attacking each other,” he says. “A year later, Ukraine throws this agreement into hell and starts attacking the borders of the two republics. Both republics suffered losses from the army.”

The Ukrainian government in Kiev claims that the two separatist regions are in fact temporarily under Russian occupation. The self-proclaimed republics are not recognized by any international government except Russia and some of its allies.

“Desperate, the two republics… sent a delegation to Moscow… and finally managed to talk to Putin. ‘Vladimir, we don’t know what to do, you have to defend us,’ they say in the Berlusconi tape.

“(Putin) opposes and resists any attempt (to attack Ukraine). (Then) Facing strong pressure from all over Russia, he decided to invent a special operation: (Russian) troops entered Ukraine, reached Kiev within a week, overthrew the incumbent government, (Ukrainian President Volodymyr ) Zelensky etc. and formed a government already elected by the good and prudent minority of Ukrainians and a week for the troops to return to Russia. ”

In the recording, Berlusconi can be heard later saying: “He (Putin) entered Ukraine and found himself (on the third day of the war) faced with an unexpected and unforeseen situation of resistance from the Ukrainians, who had begun to receive money and weapons from the West. .) And the war turned from a two-week operation to a two-century war. This is the state of the war in Ukraine.”

He also doubts that Putin and Zelensky can sit at the mediation table. Because there is no possible way,” LaPresse says in his voice.

Berlusconi defended his comments in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Thursday.

“Everything is taken out of context. The global meaning of my words was circulated without being known. With the only scope to spread disinformation and lies,” he said.

“I do not deny my old friendship with Vladimir Putin, which has brought important results achieved in full harmony with our Western allies… But today circumstances have changed.”