Berlusconi in Russia amid revelations of US concern


MOSCOW: Silvio Berlusconi met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday as leaked US cables revealed growing anxiety in Washington about the Italian prime minister’s ties to Moscow.
The disclosures forced both leaders to address poignant assessments of a relationship Washington believes has worked to the detriment of both the European Union and the United States. Medvedev said cables quoting sources who felt he played “Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin’s Batman” revealed the “cynicism” of Washington’s thinking.
“We are not paranoid. We do not tie Russia-US relations to any leaks. But at the same time, these are indicative,” said Medvedev said in televised remarks. “They show the entire extent of the cynicism of these evaluations, these judgements, that prevail in the various governments’ foreign policies — and in this case I am talking about the US.”
Berlusconi for his part brushed off uncomfortable allegations about his ties to “his fellow ‘tycoon'” Putin as meaningless notes written by unqualified bureaucrats.
“They take the first thing they see on the front page of a newspaper and transform it into a super-important looking diplomatic cable,” Berlusconi said through a Russian translator. “We should not be attaching too much importance to these things, but they do irritate.”
Yet it was Berlusconi’s relations with Putin that appeared to excite Washington’s interest most. The two leaders were reported to have talked on a daily basis during Russia’s 2008 war in Georgia — a five-day offensive that drew a furious initial Western response — and Berlusconi was believed to have more contact with Putin
than any other leader in the world. “The basis of the friendship is hard to determine, but many interlocutors have told us that Berlusconi believes that Putin, ‘a fellow tycoon,’ trusts Berlusconi more than any other leader,” the US embassy in Rome wrote.
US officials said this bond has proven beneficial to Italy in trade terms and useful to Berlusconi personally as he establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with by Washington and an important interlocutor for the EU. Italian foreign policy is
“highly receptive to Russian efforts to gain greater political influence in the EU and to support Russia’s efforts to dilute American security interests in Europe,” the Rome embassy cable said.
“A not insignificant factor is PM Berlusconi’s desire to be seen as an important European player on foreign policy, leading him to go where others dare not.” These anxieties were expressed personally by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a document entitled a “request for information on Italy-Russia relations.”