Italy’s disgraced ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has put on his "elder statesman" hat to advise the US ambassador in Rome on how American should handle the crisis in the Ukraine, is has emerged.
Berlusconi, who is barred from parliament following a tax fraud conviction, is widely seen as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s closest friend among senior western politicians.
On Wednesday night he is reported to have told ambassador John Phillips at the American Embassy that it “would be an error to isolate Russia” and called for the US to “involve the Kremlin”.
According to the Rome daily, Il Messaggero, Berlusconi also recounted recent conversations he’d had with Mr Putin in which the Russian leader had lamented the “lack of respect” that the US and the EU had shown for a February agreement that should have taken Ukraine to new elections.
As Prime Minister, Mr Berlusconi’s relations with Mr Putin were so close as to alarm the US. In 2010 it emerged from Wikileaks documents that a former US Ambassador to Rome, Ronald Spogli, feared that the Mr Putin bought the political compliance of Berlusconi.
US embassy reports feared “that Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia”. Mr Berlusconi’s shadowy, Russian speaking go-between Valentino Valentini was also present at the US embassy on Wednesday evening.