Rome, (UrduPoint/Pakistan Point News – May 28, 2022): After a mogul bromance, Italian Silvio Berlusconi is struggling to break with Russian Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine – like many in his country, where the ties with Moscow are deep.
The billionaire former prime minister’s reluctance to speak ill of Putin is being echoed by other top Italian politicians, while in the media there are fears that pro-Russian sentiment has turned into propaganda.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi is committed to NATO and the EU, strongly supporting sanctions against Moscow, and at his request, a majority of Italian MPs approved sending arms to help Ukraine defend itself .
But much of Draghi’s coalition government – Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – has long had a “special relationship” with Moscow.
Italy had the largest communist party in the West, and many companies invested in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, while the Russians in turn sought opportunities here.
Just a month before the February 24 invasion, Putin spent two hours addressing Italy’s top leadership in a virtual meeting.
– Beds, hats, parties – Berlusconi, 85, has been out for more than a decade but remains influential both in politics and through his media interests, as the founder of the Mediaset empire.
He was an ardent admirer of the Russian leader and a close friend – they stayed at each other’s vacation homes, skied together and were photographed wearing giant fur hats.
“They were two autocrats who reinforced each other’s image: power, physical prowess, bravado, glitter,” Berlusconi historian and author Antonio Gibelli told AFP.
Putin gave Berlusconi a four-poster bed, in which the Italian had sex with an escort in 2008, according to his tell-all book. He in turn gave Putin, 69, a duvet cover with a life-size image of the two men.
In the months leading up to the war in Ukraine, Berlusconi continued to promote his close ties, including a “long and friendly” phone call on New Year’s Eve.
It was only in April, two months after the Russian invasion, that he publicly criticized the conflict, saying he was “disappointed and saddened” by Putin.
He’s struggled to stay on message ever since.
Speaking off the cuff in Naples last week, he said he thought ‘Europe should…try to persuade Ukraine to accept Putin’s demands’, before backtracking and issuing a statement. declaration in favor of Kyiv.
“Breaking the twinning with Putin is expensive for Berlusconi: he has to give up part of his image,” Gibelli said.
Meanwhile, Anti-Immigration League leader Salvini, who has proudly posed in Putin T-shirts in the past, has opposed sending arms to help Ukraine.
The League condemned Russia’s military aggression, “without ifs and buts”, on February 24, during the Russian invasion.
But an investigation by L’Espresso magazine earlier this week found that in the more than 600 messages Salvini posted on social media since the invasion of Russia, he had not once mentioned Putin by her name.
He did so for the first time on Thursday, saying the “dialogue” with Putin was good and encouraging a diplomatic end to the war.
– “Biased media” – Many pro-Russian personalities enjoy significant airtime in the media, which are themselves highly politicized.
“Italy is a G7 country with an incredibly biased media landscape,” Francesco Galietti, founder of risk consultancy Policy Sonar, told AFP.
TV talk shows are extremely popular in Italy and “one of the main information formats” for a large part of the public, notes Roberta Carlini, researcher at the Institute’s Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. European university.
But she warns they are “often hiding facts”.
Italian public broadcaster RAI is being investigated by a parliamentary security committee for alleged “misinformation”, amid complaints about the frequent presence of Russian guests on talk shows.
Commercial giant Mediaset is also in hot water after airing an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in which highly controversial claims went unchallenged.
He defended the interview, saying good journalism meant listening to “even the most controversial and controversial opinions”.
“RAI is a reflection of the political landscape, with its many pro-Russian parties. And Mediaset… well, Berlusconi is an old friend of Putin, so what are you waiting for?” Galietti said.
It also points to a decades-old culture in Italy that allows conspiracy theories — particularly about the interference of American spies in Italian politics — to circulate in the media unchallenged.
“You find yourself in a situation where Russia Today (RT) is considered as authoritative as the BBC,” he said.