Putin invaded to put 'decent people' in Kyiv, says Italy's Berlusconi

STORY: The Italian leader, whose Forza Italia party belongs to a right-wing coalition expected to win the general election on Sunday (September 25), is a long-time friend of Putin and his comments are likely to alarm Western allies.

"Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this special operation," Berlusconi told Italian public television RAI late on Thursday (September 22), using the official Russian wording for the war.

Russia's plan was originally to conquer Kyiv "in a week", and replace the democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy with "a government of decent people" and get out "in another week," he said.

Putin's stated war aims have varied during the seven-month war. Ukraine initially chased his troops from the Kyiv area, and more recently from parts of the northeast near the Russia border. Putin now says the main aim is to secure territory in the Donbas region partly controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

Facing widespread condemnation from opponents, Berlusconi released a statement on Friday (September 23) saying his views had been "oversimplified".