October 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is under fire for comments about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

The 86-year-old former Italian leader said he had “reestablished relations with President Putin,” according to audio released by Italian news agency LaPresse this week.

Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and “a very sweet letter” for his birthday last month, Berlusconi says, and sent a letter and a bottle of Italian sparkling wine, according to the LaPresse audio.

He boasted that Putin called him “the first of his five true friends.”

A secret recording: Berlusconi’s comments were secretly recorded at a Tuesday meeting of his Forza Italia party in the House of Parliament, his office confirmed to CNN on Thursday, while confirming the authenticity of the audio clips released by LaPresse.

Berlusconi, who will be part of Italy’s next coalition government, can be heard saying Putin was “against any initiative” for war against Ukraine.

In the audio clips, the Italian politician can be heard talking to members of his party about what drove him to war.

It accuses Kyiv of violating a 2014 pact with separatist-controlled regions of the Donbas and says the area’s Russian-backed leaders asked Putin to defend them.

“He (Putin) entered Ukraine and was faced with a situation of unexpected and unexpected resistance from the Ukrainians, on the third day (of the war) they started receiving money and weapons from the West,” Berlusconi said at the time. “And the war, instead of being a two-week operation, has become a war of two centuries.”

In the LaPresse audio, Berlusconi can also be heard saying: “I don’t see how Putin and Zelensky can sit at a mediation table.

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

“Everything was taken out of context. The global meaning of my words spread beyond recognition. With a single framework to spread disinformation and lies,” he told the newspaper.

“I do not deny the past friendship with Vladimir Putin, which led to important results, achieved in agreement with our Western allies… But today the situation has changed,” he said.

The comments “concluded with the condemnation of the Russian invasion and the hope for a negotiated solution that will end this massacre and protect the rights of the Ukrainian people,” Berlusconi said.