Giorgia Meloni has vowed Italy will never be “the weak link” in the western alliance against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, after her prospective government coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi was recorded blaming Kyiv for the war.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, the Brothers of Italy leader, who is expected to be appointed prime minister in the next few days, said her government would have a “clear, unequivocal foreign policy line” and she would demand “clarity” from all ministers on this point.
“Italy is fully, and with its head held high, part of Europe and Nato,” she said. “Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone cannot be part of the government — even if it means not forming the government.”
She went on: “With us in government, Italy will never be the weak link in the west, the unreliable nation so dear to our many detractors.”
Her tough statement came hours after the leak of another explosive piece of audio in which Berlusconi explicitly blames Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for the war, unleashing a political furore.
In the recording, Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia is one of three parties in Meloni’s victorious rightwing coalition, claimed what he called Ukraine’s violation of the 2014 Minsk agreements had given Russian president Vladimir Putin no option but to “invent a special operation” to create a new government of “decent, sensible people”.
The Minsk agreements were an attempt eight years ago to stop fighting after Russian forces intervened in the Donbas war in support of Ukrainian separatists in the east of the country.
Ukraine “threw the treaty to hell and started attacking”, the 86-year-old former prime minister told Forza Italia lawmakers, according to the leaked audio.
He added western military and financial support for Zelenskyy’s government meant “the war, instead of being a two-week operation, became a 200-odd-year war”.
The explosive recording comes on the heels of another embarrassing leaked piece of audio in which Berlusconi describes rekindling his old friendship with Putin, after the Russian leader sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “sweet letter” for his birthday. The former prime minister said he had reciprocated by sending bottles of Lambrusco and another “sweet letter”.
Berlusconi’s apparent regard for Putin and criticism of Zelenskyy has prompted fierce criticism, just as president Sergio Mattarella is expected to formally invite Meloni to form a government in the coming days.
The leader of the Brothers of Italy has been a fierce critic of Russia’s invasion, and pledged to maintain Rome’s firm support for Ukraine, following the line set by outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi.
But Berlusconi’s pro-Putin position has raised serious doubts about Meloni’s ability to maintain pro-Ukraine policies given her reliance on two allies — Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini of the League — who have both expressed sympathy for Putin, frustration with western sanctions against Russia and concern about military aid to Kyiv.
However, Antonio Tajani, another major Forza Italia leader, who is in line to become foreign minister, has moved to swiftly distance himself from Berlusconi’s comments.
On Twitter on Wednesday evening, Tajani affirmed Forza Italia’s support for Ukrainians, praising them as “heroes who do not give up in the face of the horror of war. Their deeds in defence of democracy and freedom will be forever written in history.”
In a separate tweet he added: “We have always supported freedom and condemned the Russian invasion.”
Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, also caused embarrassment to Meloni just days before the September 25 election when he defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a national television interview.