Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid tribute to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as “an outstanding politician” and “a true patriot.”
In a message sent to Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and published on the Kremlin website on Monday, the Russian president said Berlusconi “will be remembered in Russia as a consistent and principled supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries.”
“He made a truly invaluable personal contribution to the development of mutually beneficial Russian-Italian partnerships,” the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying.
“The most important events in the recent history of Italy are connected with the name of this remarkable person. Silvio Berlusconi always put the interests of the fatherland above all else.”
Putin’s message also touched on their personal relationship. “For me, Silvio was a dear person, a true friend. I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations,” he said, adding: “During each of our meetings, I was literally charged with his incredible vitality, optimism, and sense of humor. His death is an irreparable loss and great grief.”
Berlusconi sparked criticism last year, when an audio tape emerged of him boasting about having “re-established” his relationship with Putin, just months after the Russian leader ordered a full scale invasion of Ukraine.
Berlusconi tried to downplay his comments after they were published. “I don’t deny my past friendship with Vladimir Putin, that brought important results, which were achieved in full accord with our Western allies… But today the circumstances have changed,” he said.
Just a few months after that, Berlusconi was among a small handful of world leaders included on Putin’s Christmas greetings lists, along with the likes of Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.