Italy election: Berlusconi says Putin was forced to invade Ukraine

On the eve of Italy's election, Berlusconi gives his version of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi came to the defence of Vladimir Putin on Italian television on Thursday night, claiming the Russian president was "pushed" into ordering the invasion of Ukraine.

Berlusconi, the leader of the centre-right Forza Italia party, made his controversial comments on the prime time show Porta a Porta on Italian state television network RAI, days before Italy votes in a general election on Sunday.

Forza Italia forms part of a rightist alliance, with the far-right Fratelli d'Italia of Giorgia Meloni and the right-wing Lega of Matteo Salvini, that is expected to win the election this weekend.

The programme's host Bruno Vespa noted that Putin has "decided to intensify and recall the reservists, to threaten - albeit indirectly - the use of nuclear power after the invasion of Ukraine", asking Berlusconi what happened to his "old friend".

Berlusconi, who before the war in Ukraine had long boasted of his 20-year friendship with Putin, claimed the Russian president had "fallen into a difficult and dramatic situation" after a delegation from "the two pro-Russian republics of Donbass went to Moscow" to speak to ministers and carry out a media campaign.

In Berlusconi's version of events, the delegation said that Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky had "increased the attacks of his forces against us and our borders, we have reached 16,000 dead, defend us because if you don't, we don't know where we can go."

The Donbass mission in Moscow - according to Berlusconi - saw Putin "pushed by the Russian people, his party and his ministers to invent this special operation".

The Forza Italia leader, 85, went on to claim that the plan was for Russian troops to enter Ukraine and reach Kyiv "within a week" and "replace Zelensky's government with a government of decent people" before returning to Russia a week later.

However they were met with "unexpected resistance" from Ukrainian soldiers, equipped with "arms of all kinds" supplied by the West, Berlusconi said, adding that in his view Russian forces should have stayed around Kyiv rather than spread out all over Ukraine.

Berlusconi also stressed that he "feels bad" when he hears about the deaths "because I have always believed that war is the greatest madness of all."