MILAN – Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has blamed Ukraine's president for the nearly year-old Russian invasion, again placing himself at odds with Premier Giorgia Meloni's staunch support for Kyiv.
Berlusconi, whose party backs Meloni's right-wing coalition government, is a long-time friend and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said the war in Ukraine “would have never happened" had Zelenskyy “ceased attacking the two autonomous republics of Donbass” — parts of the country that Russia has illegally annexed.
Berlusconi said he judged Zelenskyy’s behavior “very, very negatively.'' He also criticized Meloni for meeting with Zelenskyy, telling reporters Sunday that he wouldn’t have done the same had he been premier.
The comments drew a quick rebuttal Sunday from Meloni’s office, which said that “the government’s support for Ukraine is solid and unwavering.’’ Her office said backing for Ukraine was clear in both government policy and parliament votes, which have included weapons deliveries to Ukrainian forces.
Zelenskyy advisor Oleg Nikolenko on Monday slammed Berlusconi’s statements, saying that “by spreading Russian propaganda, he encourages Russia to continue its crimes against Ukraine, and then bears political and moral responsibility.”
“Berlusconi’s senseless accusations against the Ukrainian president are an attempt to kiss Putin’s hands, which are up to the elbows in blood,″ Nikolenko said.
Meloni met with Zelenskyy on the sidelines of a summit in Brussels last week, and she plans to travel to Ukraine before the first anniversary of the war's outbreak.
Meloni has previously warned Berlusconi over his friendship with Putin, and has asserted a strong pro-NATO, pro-European position on Russia’s war in Ukraine. The last warning came after Berlusconi boasted of having re-established contact with Putin and exchanged gifts of vodka and wine on his 86th birthday in September.
In his latest remarks, Berlusconi said that U.S. President Joe Biden could help bring an end to the fighting by offering Zelenskyy trillions in dollars in rebuilding funds, similar to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.
"Only something like that will convince this gentleman to agree to a cease-fire,'' Berlusconi said after casting his vote in a regional election.
Italian commentators have characterized the remarks as an attempt to profile Berlusconi’s much weakened party against Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, which has been gaining in popularity.