Analysis: Method or madness? Berlusconi's Russia stance hurts Meloni and Italy

  • Former PM Berlusconi long-time friend of Putin
  • Rightist Meloni tries to build international trust
  • Meloni govt expected to be installed in coming days

ROME, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's pro-Russia statements are likely to complicate Giorgia Meloni's efforts to establish international credibility for the government she is set to lead, analysts say.

Berlusconi is a long-time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and this week reiterated his sympathy for him, accusing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of triggering the war.

Berlusconi's views on the war and affection for Putin are especially sensitive given that a senior member of his Forza Italia party, Antonio Tajani, is widely expected to become foreign minister in a government led by Giorgia Meloni.

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

"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," Tocci told Reuters.

Berlusconi's leaked comments were made this week at a meeting with lawmakers from Forza Italia, part of the conservative alliance that will form the next government after winning general elections on Sept. 25.

Meloni, leader of the nationalist Brothers of Italy party, has strongly defended Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February and has supported Western sanctions against Moscow.

Brothers of Italy traces its roots back to the post-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) and has expressed eurosceptic views in the past. Meloni progressively assumed a pro-European approach and pledged full support to NATO during her election campaign, seeking to build trust among international partners.


Berlusconi is currently negotiating key government jobs with Meloni and the rightist League party, whose leader Matteo Salvini also expressed his admiration for Putin in the past.

Disputes over cabinet posts have sparked tension between the 86-year-old Berlusconi and Meloni and some politicians think he wants to hobble the incoming government, expected to be installed next week, because Forza Italia is the junior partner.

"In Berlusconi's mind, the fact that he is not able to call the shots is a personal outrage," Osvaldo Napoli, a long-time Forza Italia lawmaker who left the party last year, told Reuters.

Berlusconi's pro-Putin remarks came in front of dozens of Forza Italia lawmakers and Napoli believed the risk of information being leaked to the press was obviously high.

On Wednesday, after a second audio file with Berlusconi's comments was leaked, Meloni issued a statement saying any party that disagreed with her line on Italy being part of Europe and siding with NATO should not join the government.

Some analysts believe there is no clear strategy behind Berlusconi's comments and that they could backfire and even jeopardise Tajani's chances of becoming foreign minister.

Giovanni Orsina, a politics professor at Rome's Luiss university said Berlusconi has demolished his own argument that Forza Italia can be a moderating influence on the government.

"It is hard to imagine that this is rational because Berlusconi and his party are the first to be damaged ... I wonder if setting fire to your house to set fire to neighbouring houses can be considered a rational method," he told Reuters.

Reporting by Angelo Amante Editing by Keith Weir and William Maclean

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