RPT UPDATE 3-Putin invaded to place ‘decent people’ in Kiev, Italy’s Berlusconi says

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Russian Putin is an old friend of Berlusconi

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Berlusconi’s right-wing bloc to win September 25 elections

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Italian leader says Putin envisioned a quick war

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Pollsters say comments likely won’t change votes

By Alvise Armellini

ROME, Sept. 23 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin was “pushed” to invade Ukraine and wanted “decent people” in charge of Kiev, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said just before Italy’s elections. criticism.

The Italian leader, whose Forza Italia party belongs to a right-wing coalition expected to win Sunday’s parliamentary election, is an old friend of Putin’s and his comments are likely to alarm Western allies.

“Putin was pressured by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this special operation,” Berlusconi told Italian public television RAI on Thursday, using the official Russian wording for the war. .

Russia’s original plan was to capture Kiev “within a week” and replace democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy with “a government of decent people” and leave “within a week”.

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“I didn’t even understand why Russian troops spread across Ukraine when in my mind they should have just stayed around Kiev,” said Berlusconi, 85, who once described Putin as a younger brother.

Putin’s war goals varied during the seven-month war. Ukraine initially pushed its troops out of the Kiev area, and more recently from parts of the northeast near the border with Russia. Putin now says the main goal is to secure territory in the Donbas region, partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Berlusconi faced widespread condemnation from opponents and released a statement Friday saying his views were “too simple”.

“The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable, the position of (Forza Italia) is clear. We will always remain with the EU and NATO,” he said.

‘COMPLETELY EXTRAORDINARY’

Center-left Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta described Berlusconi’s comments about the war as “outrageous”.

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“If the result is favorable for the right on Sunday evening, Putin would be the happiest person,” Letta told RAI radio.

Centrist leader Carlo Calenda, another election candidate, said on Radio24 that Berlusconi had spoken “like a Putin general”.

Asked about Berlusconi’s comments, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said he believed the former Italian prime minister liked “to side with the winners, and this is certainly not Russia and not Putin”.

“I believe that the Italian people, especially Mr Berlusconi, are quite pragmatic and understand that, based on the current internal political situation in Russia and the situation at the front, it would be a mistake to medium term,” Podolayak told Reuters.

Two Reuters pollsters spoke with downplayed suggestions that Berlusconi’s statements were motivated by electoral calculations.

“Remarks like this shift very few votes, people are not very interested in foreign policy,” said Renato Mannheimer, head of the Eumetra polling station.

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“I think he left something he believes in, but he didn’t want to say it out loud,” said Antonio Noto, head of Noto Sondaggi.

Under outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy was a staunch supporter of Western sanctions against Russia after the invasion.

Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy, tipped as the next prime minister, has pledged to stick to that position, but her League allies Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini were more ambivalent.

Berlusconi said on Thursday that Moscow’s decision to invade followed an appeal from pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, who reportedly told Putin: “Please defend us, because if you don’t defend us, we don’t know where we are.” could end.”

Voting began on Friday in four Ukrainian regions largely controlled by Russian forces, including the separatists, beginning a Putin plan to annex much of Ukraine. (Additional coverage by Angelo Amante in Rome and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Gareth Jones)

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