Berlusconi in Moscow; cable says he`s Putin`s man

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy`s leader, made an official visit to Russia today, just as a leaked US diplomatic cable alleged an uncomfortably close relationship between him and Russian premier Vladimir Putin.

Moscow: Silvio Berlusconi, Italy`s leader,
made an official visit to Russia today, just as a leaked US
diplomatic cable alleged an uncomfortably close relationship
between him and Russian premier Vladimir Putin.

The cable, released this week by WikiLeaks, claims
that meetings between Berlusconi and Putin include the
exchange of lavish gifts and that Berlusconi and his allies
are believed to be personally profiting from Italy`s extensive
energy contracts with Russia.

Today`s visit by Berlusconi did not list a meeting
with Putin, but he met in the mountain resort of Krasnaya
Polyana with President Dmitry Medvedev, who observers widely
believe wields less power than Putin.

Berlusconi dismissed the cable`s claims, telling a
news conference today with Medvedev that "There has never been
a single personal interest. We have always worked in the
interest of our respective countries."

The cable from the US Embassy in Rome portrays
Berlusconi as essentially acting as a European mouthpiece for
Putin.

"His overwhelming desire is to remain in Putin`s good
graces and he has frequently voiced opinions and declarations
passed to him directly by Putin," the communique says.

In part, the cable says, that reflects Italy`s
reliance on Russian gas. The energy-hungry country imports
about nine times more gas than it produces, and Russia is a
major supplier.

"In its relation with Russia, energy is the most
important bilateral issue and the quest for stable energy
supplies from Russia frequently forces Italy to compromise on
security and political issues," it says.

Such apparent compromises include support for
"Medvedev`s plans to redefine European security architecture
to undermine the OSCE and NATO" and Italian opposition to NATO
efforts to improve ties with Georgia and Ukraine, the cable
says.

But the report also suggests Berlusconi is emotionally
and financially enriched by close relations with Russia.

Berlusconi is believed to "admire Putin`s macho, decisive and
authoritarian governing style, which the Italian PM believes
matches his own," the cable said.

In addition, the cable says contacts from within
Berlusconi`s party and from an opposition party "hinted at a
more nefarious connection. They believe that Berlusconi and
his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many
of the energy deals between Italy and Russia."

PTI

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