March 2. 2024. 3:06

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Berlusconi’s Zelenskyy comments rattle coalition


Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi recently slamming President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his devastating actions in Ukraine has rattled the governing right coalition and drawn strong criticism from the opposition, including from Brussels.

Berlusconi lashed out at Zelenskyy this weekend for actions he says have led to death and devastation in Ukraine, causing harsh reactions from within the coalition, and from the opposition in Italy and in Brussels.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has not yet commented due to catching influenza, forcing her to cancel all scheduled engagements.

Speaking for Meloni, Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, Meloni’s brother-in-law, said he did not agree with Berlusconi’s words, echoing the government’s sentiment.

“From the point of view of concrete action, we are in line with what Berlusconi and his party signed up for in the (electoral) programme. If one eventually changes his mind, he has to put it on the table or in parliamentary acts. If this does not happen, it means we are going in the right direction”, Lollobrigida said.

Italy’s position is alongside Ukraine and it “cannot be questioned and is not questioned by any force, neither the majority nor a large part of the opposition”, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, also from Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, stressed.

Coming to Berlusconi’s defence was Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who called him “a man of peace”.

“He has certainly not changed his positions in support of Ukraine, NATO and the West. We have always voted the same way and we will continue to vote that way. The government’s position is always the same”, Tajani stressed.

“Together with Matteo Salvini and Giuseppe Conte”, Berlusconi is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘Trojan horse’ in Italy, the Italian Radicals wrote in a joint note.

The leader of Forza Italia (EPP) has a long and well-known friendship with Putin, whom he described as one of his closest friends.

From the Democratic Party (S&D), Senate group leader Simona Malpezzi asked Meloni and Tajani for clarification.

Berlusconi “spoke of autonomous republics in the Donbas and I would like to remind them that the international community has never recognised them as such”, said Malpezzi, pointing out that “only a few leftist councillors have tried to recognise them”.

In 2016, the Veneto region passed a resolution, pushed through by Lega, that called on the Italian government to recognise Crimea as part of Russia. League leader Matteo Salvini repeatedly made pro-Putin statements before the war in Ukraine.

Environment and Energy Security Gilberto Pichetto Fratin also attended the inauguration of the Donetsk representative centre in Turin in December 2016. The initiative was promoted and organised by Maurizio Marrone, current councillor of the Piedmont region for Fratelli d’Italia.

Criticism also came from the Socialist group (S&D) in the European Parliament, with its president, Iratxe Garcia, criticising Forza Italia and European People’s Party (EPP) chief Manfred Weber.

“I am horrified by Berlusconi’s shocking new statements on Ukraine. Is this the position of the Meloni government and Forza Italia Foreign Minister Tajani? Does the EPP president Manfred Weber have anything to say?” she wrote on Twitter.

Renew Europe MEP and President of the Conference for the Future of Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, later wrote on social media: “This is no longer funny, he is actively weakening Ukraine and Europe (…) When will the EPP throw him out?”

Weber actively supported the centre-right’s campaign in Italy in the run-up to the last general election and pointed to Forza Italia as a key component of the coalition to ensure the pro-EU direction of the Meloni government.

(Federica Pascale | EURACTIV.it)