Putin gifted vodka to Berlusconi in breach of EU sanctions

Queen Elizabeth II appears to TELL OFF Berlusconi for shouting

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Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to accept 20 bottles of vodka sent to him by Vladimir Putin represents a flagrant breach of sanctions imposed on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission has said. And he also pointed the finger of blame at Kyiv, rather than Moscow, for starting the conflict.

Meanwhile insiders have claimed the controversial former Prime Minister’s move is part of an attempt to damage the credibility of the incoming government – and new PM, the right-wing Giorgia Meloni – because his Forza Italia will only be a junior partner in the ruling coalition.

Former Prime Minister Mr Berlusconi, who turned 86 on September 29, caused outrage this week when he said he was back in touch with Putin.

During an audio recording released earlier this week, he explained: “I have got back in touch a bit with Putin, quite a lot, in the sense that for my birthday he sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter.

“I answered him with some bottles of Lambrusco and an equally sweet letter.”

He said he was extremely worried about the situation in Ukraine but was unable to give his true opinion because “if it gets in the press there’ll be a disaster”.

In a second recording, Mr Berlusconi accused Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky of starting the war, claiming he had “thrown to the devil” a peace deal agreed with the Donbas republics “and started to attack the border with the two republics”.

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He added: “Among the soldiers who were deployed, the republics suffered around five to six or seven thousand casualties. Zelensky comes on the scene and he triples the attacks on the two republics.”

He added: “The war, instead of being a two-week operation, has become a war that will last for 200 years or more.”

Speaking last month, Mr Berlusconi claimed the invasion was intended to install “decent people” in Kyiv.

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An EU sanctions package agreed in April extended an import ban for Russian goods to include spirits, including vodka, a Commission spokesperson said in a statement, adding there was no exemption for gifts.

However, it is up to individual EU member states to implement the sanctions, the Commission said, and it was not immediately clear if any action would be taken to pursue the case by Italian authorities.

Neither was it clear if the wine sent to Mr Putin likewise represented a breach of sanctions.

A party spokesman subsequently denied Mr Berlusconi was back in touch with Putin, saying he had been telling his parliamentarians “an old story referring to an episode many years ago”.

In response to Mr Berlusconi’s reported comments on Putin and the war in Ukraine, Ms Meloni, who is expected to be Italy’s next prime minister, said yesterday her new government would be pro-NATO and fully a part of Europe.

Disputes over cabinet posts have sparked tension between the 86-year-old Mr Berlusconi and Ms Meloni and some politicians believe he is trying to hobble her incoming administration, likely to be installed next week.

Osvaldo Napoli, a former member of the Chamber of Deputies who quit Forza Italia last year, said: “In Berlusconi’s mind, the fact that he is not able to call the shots is a personal outrage.”

Nathalie Tocci, head of Italy’s Institute for International Affairs (IAI), said Mr Berlusconi’s comments on Putin were a blow to Ms Meloni, who already faces international scepticism as she prepares to form Italy’s most right-wing government since World War 2.

She said: “The government starts with an uphill road, and this issue has made the climb a little steeper.

“But this doesn’t mean the mountain cannot be climbed.”

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