(Reuters) – The 20 bottles of vodka sent to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi as a birthday gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin breach European sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission said.
Former prime minister Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party is set to be a member of Italy’s new coalition government, caused controversy this week when he said he was back in touch with Putin and had recently exchanged “sweet letters” with him.
“For my birthday he sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter,” Berlusconi, who turned 86 last month, told his lower house lawmakers, according to the audio issued by news agency LaPresse.
An EU sanctions package agreed in April extended an import ban for Russian goods to include spirits, including vodka, a Commission spokesperson said in a statement, adding there was no exemption for gifts.
However, it is up to individual EU member states to implement the sanctions, they said, and it was not immediately clear if any action would be taken to pursue the case by Italian authorities.
In response to Berlusconi’s reported comments on Putin and the war in Ukraine, Giorgia Meloni, who is expected to be Italy’s next prime minister, said on Wednesday her new government would be pro-NATO and fully a part of Europe.
Meanwhile, Forza Italia (FI) Coordinator Antonio Tajani said Thursday that the party and its leader Silvio Berlusconi are firmly behind NATO and against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the European People’s Party (EPP) summit ahead of the European Council.
“I’m here to confirm, once again, the position of my party, my personal position and the position of the leader of my party totally in favour of NATO and trans-Atlantic relations, in favour of Europe, and against the unacceptable Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Tajani said.
Berlusconi said that he would have delivered the message to the EPP summit himself but was unable to because of government-formation consultations with President Sergio Mattarella.
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with former Italian prime minister and head of the Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi (R), prior to his departure at an airport in Rome, Italy, late 04 July 2019. Putin travelled to Italy and the Vatican on a one-day official visit.