The controversial friendship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears to have come to an end after more than two decades of mutual admiration, family vacations and shared political values.
Rumors that the relationship was growing increasingly frosty were confirmed at a Forza Italia convention in Rome on Saturday when Berlusconi took the stage and mentioned Putin’s name for the first time since Russia invaded Israel. Ukraine on February 24.
“I cannot and do not want to hide the fact that I am deeply disappointed and saddened by the behavior of Vladimir Putin,” the billionaire media mogul said. “I met him 20 years ago and he always seemed to me a man of democracy and peace.”
But 20 years of friendship couldn’t resist Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, prompting the 85-year-old former Italian prime minister to reconsider his alliance with the one he called “undoubtedly the number one.” 1 in the world” in 2015, and once compared to a younger brother.
“Faced with the horrors of the massacres of civilians in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine, real war crimes, Russia cannot deny its responsibility,” Berlusconi said. “He should, in his own interest, identify and bring to justice the perpetrators.”
Berlusconi allegedly tried to phone the Kremlin several times over the past month before being hastily fired, according to an Italian newspaper The Republic reported Sunday. Far from what Giuliano Urbani, a member of Forza Italia, described in 2001 as very frequent communication between the two leaders. But a lot has changed since the year the controversial duo first hooked up.
It was July 2001 and Berlusconi had just been re-elected Prime Minister for the second time when Putin called to congratulate him.
Over the years, the world has grown accustomed to images of the casually dressed couple sharing meals and smiles and exploring Berlusconi’s luxurious summer residence on the island of Sardinia. The former Italian leader even gave Putin a duvet featuring the two for the Russian president’s 65th birthday.
Likewise, the leader of Forza Italia has been welcomed by Putin on several occasions. In 2002 Berlusconi became the first Western leader to be welcomed into Putin’s home in Sochi, while in 2003 photos were released of the two wearing furry ushanka hats and sub-zero temperatures in the village of Zavidovo.
Even through the most serious blunders, scandals and expansionist maneuvers, the two men have supported each other.
In 2010, Berlusconi’s already controversial private life took a turn for the worse when local media revealed that a Moroccan minor had attended the so-called “bunga bunga” sex parties at the Italian tycoon’s home near Milan. Leaked cables and media reports suggest that Putin himself attended at least two such parties.
Five years later, Berlusconi paid a controversial visit to Putin in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol on the Black Sea, shortly after Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine, where they reportedly uncorked a wine Spanish worth €100,000.
“In Crimea, people thank [Putin] with tears in his eyes for what he did,” Berlusconi said at the time.
Shortly after, Ukrainian media reported that the country’s security services had banned the Italian leader from entering Ukraine for three years in “the interests of national security”.
But it wasn’t all parties and lavish dinners. Wikileaks cables released in 2010 suggested that Berlusconi and Putin had strong financial ties.
According to the cables, then-US Ambassador to Rome Ronald Spogli wrote in 2009 that colleagues and sources close to Berlusconi said the former prime minister “and his cronies personally and generously benefit from numerous deals energy between Italy and Russia.
“The Georgian ambassador in Rome told us that the Georgian government believes that Putin promised Berlusconi a percentage of the profits from all pipelines developed by Gazprom in coordination with ENI,” Spogli wrote in the leaked dispatches in reference to the giants. Italian and Russian energy companies. . Berlusconi quickly denied the allegations.
Now, mounting evidence of possible Russian war crimes and alleged human rights abuses in Ukraine may have put an end to all that, at least publicly.
Whether Berlusconi and Putin will eventually reconnect privately remains to be seen. But the world is unlikely to see the jolly men linking arms again, soaking up the Mediterranean sun off the coast of Italy or cheering on the Russian bobsled team in the Caucasus Mountains town of Krasnaja Poliana.
As the international community continues to isolate Russia, maintaining ties with Putin would complicate matters for the already controversial former prime minister, especially as the Italian government moves forward in its bid to unravel the country. of its dependence on Russian gas while condemning Putin’s war.
Last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called on Russia to end the “massacre of civilians”.
“War crimes must be punished,” Draghi said. “President Putin, the Russian authorities and his army will be held accountable for their actions.”