Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has come under fire for comments about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

The 86-year-old former Italian leader said he had “restored ties with President Putin,” according to audio released by Italy’s LaPresse news agency this week.

Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet letter” for his birthday last month, Berlusconi says, and he returned a letter and some Italian sparkling wine, according to LaPresse Audio.

He further boasted that Putin called him “the first of his five true friends.”

A secret recording: Berlusconi’s remarks were secretly recorded during a meeting of his Forza Italia party in the parliament hall on Tuesday, his office confirmed to CNN on Thursday, while also confirming the authenticity of the audio clips released by LaPresse.

Berlusconi, who will Part of Italy’s new coalition governmentIt can be heard that Putin is “against any initiative” for a war against Ukraine.

In the audio clips, the Italian politician talks to members of his party about what he thinks led to the war.

He accuses Kyiv of violating a 2014 agreement Separatist-controlled regions in Donbass and says Russian-backed leaders in the region have asked Putin to defend them.

“He (Putin) invaded Ukraine and faced an unexpected and unpredictable situation of resistance from Ukrainians, who on the third day (of the war) began to receive money and weapons from the West,” Berlusconi can then say Listen. “And the war, instead of being a two-week operation, has become a two-century war.”

In the LaPresse audio, Berlusconi can also be heard saying: “I don’t understand how Putin and Zelenskyy can sit at a mediation table.

In defense of his statements: Berlusconi defended his statements in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Thursday.

“Everything was taken out of context. It was spread without knowing the global meaning of my words. With the only way to spread disinformation and lies,” he told the newspaper.

“I don’t deny mine past friendship with Vladimir Putin, which has led to important results achieved in full agreement with our Western allies… But today the circumstances have changed,” he said.

His statements ended “with the condemnation of the Russian invasion and with the hope for a negotiated solution that would put an end to this massacre and protect the rights of the Ukrainian people,” Berlusconi continued.

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