The Daily Telegraph

Berlusconi and Putin friendship afloat again on an ocean of vodka

- By Nick Squires in Rome

SILVIO BERLUSCONI has “rekindled” his friendship with Vladimir Putin and received 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet” birthday card from the Russian president, it emerged yesterday.

The 86-year-old three-time prime minister, who is about to become a key player in Italy’s new government, made the revelation in a leaked audio recording obtained by an Italian news agency.

A long-time personal friend of Mr Putin, Mr Berlusconi has been angling for key posts for members of his Forza Italia party in the coalition government that will be formed in the next few days by Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister in waiting and leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party.

Forza Italia is one of three parties that will form the next government, along with Brothers of Italy and the League.

The revelation that Mr Berlusconi is still apparently close to Mr Putin will raise concerns that Italy could become a weak link in the Western alliance, as the Kremlin pursues increasing­ly unscrupulo­us tactics in Ukraine.

It will also be an embarrassm­ent for Ms Meloni, who has insisted that her government will continue to pursue a tough line against Moscow and to support the Ukrainians in their fight.

“I have rekindled relations with President Putin. For my birthday he sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter,” Mr Berlusconi is heard to say in the audio, which was released by La Presse news agency.

“I responded with bottles of Lambrusco and an equally lovely letter. I was declared the number one among his five true friends,” Mr Berlusconi said.

Mr The former prime minister, who turned 86 on Sept 29, said he was deeply worried by the progress of the war.

“Russian ministers have said on many occasions that we are at war with them because we are supplying arms and money to Ukraine,” he said on the tape.

“I cannot express my personal opinion because if the press got hold of it, it would be a disaster, but I am very, very, very worried.”

Mr Berlusconi and the leaders of the other two Right-wing parties have been locked in talks for days about ministeria­l positions in the new government.

He lost a battle to have a close confidante, Licia Ronzulli, made a minister, in what was seen as a humiliatin­g defeat.

Relations have soured between Mr Berlusconi and Ms Meloni after he described her as “overbearin­g, arrogant and offensive” in a written note that was photograph­ed by the Italian media during a debate in parliament.

‘I responded with an equally lovely letter. I was declared number one among his five true friends’

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