Putin was 'pushed' into Ukraine war, says Italy's Berlusconi

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ROME - Russian President Vladimir Putin was "pushed" into the war on Ukraine to install a new government in Kyiv, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi said late Thursday, in comments likely to concern Western allies ahead of Italy's election.

Mr Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party belongs to a right-wing coalition expected to win the general election on Sunday, is not new to defending Mr Putin's actions in Ukraine. His comments highlight cracks in the coalition over the war.

Mr Berlusconi, a personal friend of the Russian leader, downplayed Mr Putin's warmongering instincts after he threatened to use nuclear weapons in the wake of suffering setbacks in Ukraine.

"Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to invent this special operation," he said, using the official Russian wording for the war.

Under Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy has been a staunch supporter of Western sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine.

Mr Giorgia Meloni, of the far-right Brothers of Italy, who is tipped to become the next prime minister, has pledged to stick to that position. But Mr Berlusconi and her other ally, Mr Matteo Salvini, have been more ambivalent.

Russia's plan was originally to conquer Kyiv "in a week", replace Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky with "a government of decent people", and get out "in another week", said Mr Berlusconi.

"I haven't even understood why Russian troops spread around Ukraine while in my mind they should have only stuck around Kyiv," he added.

Mr Putin's stated war aims have varied during the seven-month war. Ukraine initially chased his troops from the Kyiv area, and more recently from the north-east near the Russian border.

Mr Putin now says the main aim is to secure territory in Ukraine's Donbas region partly controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

Speaking on Italian public television RAI, Mr Berlusconi suggested Moscow's decision to invade came in response to an appeal by separatists.

He said their leaders came to the Kremlin and directly told Mr Putin, "Please defend us, because if you do not defend us, we don't know where w...

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