Putin friend Berlusconi slammed for "soft" stance on Russia

Georgia Materials 11 August 2008 20:08 (UTC +04:00)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi drew criticism Monday from opposition leaders for what they said was his failure to condemn outright Russia's military intervention in Georgia, reported dpa.

"A phone call is not enough," said the Catholic centrist party UDC's leader Pierferdinando Casini, referring to Berlusconi's conversation with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

Berlusconi phoned Putin from his Sardinian villa, a luxury holiday residence where the billionaire-turned-politician has hosted the Russian leader in the past.

Berlusconi told Putin he hoped fighting involving Russian forces in Georgia and its breakaway South Ossetia region would cease and be replaced by negotiations, Italian news reports said.

"Berlusconi has the duty to make an official statement (of condemnation). He is a friend of Putin's but friendship cannot become acquiescence," Casini said.

Another opposition politician Franco Monaco of the centre-left Democratic Party said Berlusconi's stance was "inadequate," and exposed the failure of the Italian premier's diplomacy which consisted of "slaps on the back and and welcoming leaders at his villa for a photo-opportunity."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Monday said he would adhere to the European Union's position on the conflict.

Frattini also welcomed a trip to Moscow by his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner saying it was aimed at achieving a ceasefire "without isolating Russia".

"I believe that Russia's military intervention must cease as must all (military) actions and incursions by Georgia," Frattini told television news channel SKY TG24.