Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were pictured amid a frosty discussion in Kyiv on Tuesday, as the Italian premier firmly ruled out supplying fighter jets to the war-torn country.
The Italian leader, on one of her most significant overseas trips since coming to power in October, reiterated her country’s support for Ukraine, but said it would not be backed up by the offer of Italy’s AMX bomber jets.
‘At the moment the supply of planes is not on the table,’ Ms Meloni said at a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
But it was clear tensions were already present before the press conference as the two were photographed facing each other with rather hard-faced looks, a week after Ms Meloni’s coalition partner cast blame at Mr Zelensky for the invasion of Ukraine.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, and long time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week the war ‘would have never happened’ had Mr Zelenskyy ‘ceased attacking the two autonomous republics of Donbass’ — parts of the country that Russia has illegally annexed.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) were pictured in a frosty meeting in Kyiv today
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, and long time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that the war was Ukraine’s fault
Silvio Berlusconi is a long time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Zelensky brushed off Mr Berlusconi’s comments, saying the 86-year-old media tycoon had not had to live under daily bombardment and blackouts caused by Russian air strikes.
The Ukrainian leader told the news conference it was important how the Italian public viewed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that the war-torn country could feel support from Italy.
‘Mr. Berlusconi, it seems to me, has never had his house bombarded with missiles every day. And thank God his partner from the Russian Federation didn’t drive a tank into his house and destroy his relatives and close ones,’ Mr Zelensky said.
‘I think Mr Berlusconi has not had to get up at three in the morning because of blackouts to start washing clothes, making food for his children two days in advance because there may not be power for the next two-three days because of the great love of the brotherly Russian people,’ he added.
Russia launched a campaign of air strikes against Ukraine in October, striking critical infrastructure and causing regular blackouts and other power outages.
He said he thought Mr Berlusconi would benefit from travelling to Ukraine to see with his own eyes the ‘bloody trail left by the brotherly Russian Federation’.
‘Then we can talk at the same level,’ he said.
Despite her coalition partner’s comments, Ms Meloni stressed Italy would continue to offer its support, saying Ukraine’s defeat ‘could pave the way for the possible invasion of other European states.’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni exchange signed documents during the joint press conference following their meeting today
Mr Zelensky brushed off Mr Berlusconi’s comments, saying the 86-year-old media tycoon had not had to live under daily bombardment and blackouts caused by Russian air strikes
President Vladimir Putin and former Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi visit an Italian war cemetery near the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, September 2015
Silvio Berlusconi meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sardinia, Italy, April 17, 2008
In reference to Mr Berlusconi, she said her coalition had been firm in supporting Ukraine with ‘facts’ and votes in parliament, regardless of individual remarks by politicians.
While dismissing the idea of supplying planes to Kyiv, she said Italy was considering sending more air defence systems beyond the ‘SAMP/T-MAMBA’, which the country is shortly expected to deliver in cooperation with France.
Yet, while Ms Meloni made her commitment to Ukraine clear, surveys in Italy have also shown that a majority of Italians oppose sending arms to Ukraine and would rather achieve peace by making concessions to Russia – an option Ms Meloni has firmly ruled out.
The Italian prime minister arrived in Kyiv via train from Poland, and visited the war-battered towns of Bucha and Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv before meeting with Zelenskiy in the capital.
In Irpin, where mass graves were found after Russian troops left, she dismissed a speech by Putin on Tuesday as ‘propaganda.’
Speaking to his country’s political and military elites, Putin said Moscow would achieve its war aims in Ukraine and accused the West of trying to destroy Russia.
In Bucha, Ms Meloni shed tears and covered her mouth in horror as she was shown round a church containing a photo exhibition of dead civilians.
Bucha’s mayor, Anatolii Fedoruk, presented the Italian leader with a commemorative coin made from the casings of bullets and shells found in the town.