Whoops, Silvio did it again. Mr Berlusconi made waves on Tuesday when LaPresse released leaked audio of him saying he had reconnected with Russian President Vladimir Putin and even exchanged liquor bottles and “sweet letters.”
That wasn’t all. LaPresse doubled down on Wednesday, releasing yet more leaked audio of the Forza Italia leader recounting a Kremlin-inspired version of Ukraine’s recent history. This exercise in revisionism offers a Russia-touted explanation of what led President Putin to invade the country and ultimately why “there is no possible way” he can mediate with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- “Zelensky, in my opinion… never mind, I can’t say,” says Mr Berlusconi to his MPs in the leaked audio, before proceeding to explain “how the Russia thing happened” and asking them to promise they would maintain “the utmost reserve.”
Mr Berlusconi’s story. The former PM (and longtime friend of President Putin) starts by narrating that “Ukraine and the two newly-formed Donbas republics” signed an agreement in 2014 in Minsk, promising not to attack each other. A year later, Kyiv disregards the agreement and attacks the two “republics,” which suffer casualties “that reach, I am told, 5-6-7 thousand dead.” Then Mr Zelensky is elected and “triples the attacks on the two republics,” which are “desperate” enough to send a delegation to Moscow and ask Mr Putin to defend them. “He is against any initiative, he resists, he is under heavy pressure from the whole of Russia. So he decides to invent a special operation: the troops were to enter Ukraine, reach Kyiv in one week, depose the incumbent government – Zelensky and so on – and establish a government already chosen by the Ukrainian minority of decent, sensible people, and go back [to Russia] in another week. He entered Ukraine and was faced with an unforeseen and unforeseeable situation of resistance from the Ukrainians, who began to receive money and weapons from the West from day three. And the war, instead of being a two-week operation, became a two-hundred-and-odd-year war. So, this is the situation of the war in Ukraine.”
- Some bare-bones fact-checking. The Russian Army played a central role in arming, supporting and even fighting alongside the separatist forces in the Donbas. The two “republics” weren’t (and still aren’t) internationally recognised, especially when they signed the 2014 Minsk agreement, which was drafted by Russia, Ukraine and the OECD and failed to stop the fighting. That led to the 2015 Minsk Agreement, which featured, among other things, Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Which, needless to say, was infringed when President Putin invaded in February.
But wait: there’s more. “Another risk, another danger that we all face,” adds Mr Berlusconi in the leaked audio, is that “today, unfortunately, there are no leaders in the Western world, there are no leaders in Europe and in the United States of America. I won’t tell you the things I know but there are no real leaders. Can I make you smile? The only real leader is me…”
That’s got to hurt. The first leak dismayed onlookers, along with coalition ally Giorgia Meloni, who’s slated to form Italy’s next (and staunchly Atlanticist) government in a matter of days. Given that the likely next PM and her party openly support Kyiv and favour military aid, Mr Berlusconi’s remarks are set to whip up another storm – one that might imperil the creation of the next government, where his party is supposed to feature prominently, along with the unity of the centre-right coalition.
- Ms Meloni later said she “intend[s] to lead a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy line”, one that’s “fully” part of Europe and NATO. “Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government, at the cost of not forming it,” she threatened.