MOSCOW (AP) — Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday came to Russia-occupied Crimea in a sign of symbolic support for his close friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Berlusconi has previously hosted Putin's family at his villa on the Italian island of Sardinia. The two spent a weekend together at a vacation home in Siberia in June and met briefly in Rome when Putin visited Italy this summer.
Russian state news agency Tass reported that Berlusconi, who is in Russia on a private visit, spent the past couple of days in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. He arrived in Crimea on Friday.
Berlusconi and Putin met in front of the cameras at a memorial to soldiers of the Kingdom of Sardinia who were killed in the 1853-1856 Crimean war in Sevastopol. Putin, dressed in a suit with no tie like his Italian friend, told the 78-year old Italian politician about expanding the memorial, and Berlusconi replied "Thank you!" both in Russia and Italian.
The West has condemned Russia for annexing the peninsula from Ukraine, with the U.S. and European nations formally discouraging its citizens from visiting Crimea, which makes the visit of a prominent — albeit retired — politician a special occasion.