Ukraine says Italy's Berlusconi 'spreading Russian propaganda'

Italy's centre-right coalition closing campaign rally in Rome
Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks during the closing electoral campaign rally of the centre-right's coalition in Piazza del Popolo, ahead of the September 25 general election, in Rome, Italy, September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

KYIV, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Ukraine accused former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday of spreading Russian propaganda after he said he would not seek a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy if he were still head of government.

Berlusconi, 86, often boasted of his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin before Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

In comments on Sunday, Berlusconi said all Zelenskiy had to do to prevent the war in Ukraine was to "stop attacking" territory held by Russia-backed separatists in the east and that he judged the president's behaviour "very, very negatively".

"Berlusconi's ridiculous accusations against the Ukrainian president are an attempt to kiss Putin's hands, which are covered in blood up to the elbows," Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson for Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, wrote on Facebook.

"At the same time, the Italian politician should understand that by spreading Russian propaganda he encourages Russia to continue its crimes against Ukraine, and therefore bears political and moral responsibility," he said.

He accused Berlusconi of trying to show loyalty to "the Russian dictator", and drew parallels with the former Italian prime minister's relationship with late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In his Facebook post, Nikolenko published a photograph of Berlusconi kissing Gaddafi's hand in 2010.

Nikolenko welcomed a statement by the office of the current Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, reiterating the government's "firm and convinced" support for Ukraine.

Reporting by Olena Harmash, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Ed Osmond

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