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Italy underlines support for Ukraine after Berlusconi attack on Zelensky

Italian government stresses its support for Ukraine.

Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is at the centre of a fresh controversy over his stance on Ukraine after saying that if he were still head of government he would not seek a meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymir Zelensky.

Berlusconi, 86, told reporters on Sunday that had he been the prime minister he would never have gone to talks with Zelensky "because we are witnessing the devastation of his country and the slaughter of its soldiers and civilians".

Berlusconi, whose centre-right Forza Italia is part of Italy's ruling right-wing coalition, said that if Zelensky had ceased attacking the two separatist republics of the Donbass the war would not have happened, adding: "I judge, very, very negatively the behaviour of this gentleman."

He also suggested that US president Joe Biden should guarantee a Marshall Plan, valued at between $6 billion and $9 billion, to rebuild Ukraine, on condition that Zelensky orders an immediate ceasefire.

As the opposition rounded on Berlusconi's comments, the office of prime minister Giorgia Meloni issued a statement underlining the Italian government's "firm and convinced" support for Ukraine.

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani, who is also Italy's deputy premier and a senior figure in Forza Italia, wrote on Twitter that his party "has always been in favour of the independence of Ukraine, on the side of Europe, NATO and the West."

Berlusconi, who before Russia's invasion of Ukraine had long boasted of his friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, made his explosive remarks in Milan after voting in the Lombardia regional election.

His outburst came just a few days after Meloni criticised France and Germany after she was not invited to a dinner in Paris with Zelensky, whom she met subsequently on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels.

Last September a leaked audio recording surfaced of Berlusconi telling parliamentarians from his Forza Italia party that Zelensky had pushed Putin into an endless war by "tripling" attacks on the Donbass region.

On Saturday night a letter from Zelensky was read on the stage of Italy's Sanremo Music Festival, in which the Ukrainian leader said: "Ukraine will definitely win this war. It will win together with the free world. It will win thanks to the voice of freedom, democracy and, of course, culture."

Photo credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com

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