The former Prime Minister of Italy, the head of the Forza Italia party, and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, during the voting at the polling station in Lombardy on February 12, 2023, said that if he were the Prime Minister, he would not have met with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. According to the scandalous Italian politician, it is the Ukrainian president who is to blame for the deaths of soldiers and civilians. He noted that in order to prevent a war, it was enough for Volodymyr Zelenskyy to stop the attacks on the two independent republics of Donbas (“repubbliche autonome del Donbass” – in Italian).
The accusations of the Italian politician are false and far-fetched. In fact, the number of civilian and military casualties in Donbas during the presidency of Volodymyr Zelenskyy not only did not increase but on the contrary significantly decreased compared to the beginning of the conflict. Thus, according to the Ukrainian mass media, which received information from the OSCE, in 2020, 24 dead and 107 wounded civilians were recorded. At the same time, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in response to Radio Svoboda’s request that 3,390 people died between April 14, 2014, and June 30, 2021.
In addition, even before Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, the Ukrainian president repeatedly appealed to his Russian counterpart with proposals to meet and stop the escalation.
Reaction in Italy
A number of Italian politicians and the media immediately reacted to the scandalous statement. So, the Italian newspaper Domani, which specializes in analytics and investigations, published an article with a loud title about the attempts of the Head of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, to stop Berlusconi’s Putin nonsense.
Even his fellow party Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tajani, stated on his Twitter account that Forza Italia always stood for the independence of Ukraine on the side of NATO and the West.
Reaction in Ukraine
Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesman for foreign affairs of Ukraine, harshly criticized the statement of the former Italian prime minister.
He shared his memories of how Silvio Berlusconi 2010 kissed the hand of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and noted the following:
«Berlusconi’s senseless accusations against the Ukrainian president are an attempt to kiss Putin’s hands, which are covered in blood up to the elbows. Attempts to demonstrate their loyalty to the Russian dictator. At the same time, the Italian politician must realize that by spreading Russian propaganda, he encourages Russia to continue its crimes against Ukraine, and therefore bears political and moral responsibility.»
The Ukrainian president also reacted to Silvio Berlusconi’s statements. On the eve of Giorgia Meloni’s arrival in Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelensky jokingly mentioned the Italian politician’s statements regarding his friendship with Vladimir Putin, who sent him 20 bottles of vodka: «I heard Berlusconi’s statements. I don’t know him personally. But maybe we need to send him something too. Does he like vodka? We have excellent quality in Ukraine, if you want, we will send it to him.»
Does Silvio Berlusconi support the Ukrainian people?
On February 14, 2023, the Italian politician tried to correct the situation on his Facebook page and dedicated another post to the Ukrainian issue. He noted that he has always been and is on the side of the Ukrainian people and peace. Moreover, he also mentioned the vote for financing and sending weapons to Ukraine. Silvio Berlusconi explained his scandalous statements only by the desire to propose a plan for the restoration of Ukraine and a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Why did he suddenly start making excuses? We asked an expert on international relations, an associate professor of the Department of International Law, European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Kyiv University named after Boris Grinchenko Victoria Vdovychenko. She noted that by spreading pro-Russian propaganda about the Ukrainian government, in particular, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Silvio Berlusconi is trying to show his support for the Ukrainian people:
«Silvio Berlusconi supports the Ukrainian people, because every party in Italy, as well as in other countries, supports the people as a whole. But, as for the following statement, everything here is quite simple: it is a typical Russian narrative, which says that the Ukrainian people have become vulnerable because the actions of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, did not correspond to the vision or wishes of Ukrainians. This is one thing, and another thing is that the president of Ukraine is, again, this is a disinformation narrative that is not capable of ensuring the security of the territory of Ukraine and the people who live there.»
Thus, Silvio Berlusconi, regardless of his pro-Russian views and personal friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is forced to take into account the pro-Ukrainian position both among Italian society and politicians, including his fellow party members.