Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin
Silvio Berlusconi (L) and Russian president Vladimir Putin Reuters

Former Italy prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has condemned the G7 decision to suspend the 16-year collaboration with Russia in the G8 group of leading industrialised nations as "reckless and counter-productive".

The 77-year-old media mogul, banned for two years from public office after he was found guilty of tax fraud, lamented that Western leaders in The Hague have taken decisions "far from the constructive spirit" of collaboration with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Italy's disgraced ex-premier is widely regarded as Putin's closest friend among senior western politicians. During the Ukraine crisis, he reportedly told ambassador John Philips at the American embassy that "it would be an error to isolate Russia" and called for the US to "involve the Kremlin."

Berlusconi and Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) listens to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as they toured villa La Certosa in Sardinia August 29, 2003 REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL

Berlusconi and Putin are bound by a decade-long, sincere friendship. The 77-year-old invited the Russian leader to his private villa in Sardinia in 2008. Putin has long defended Berlusconi and once dismissed concerns over the former prime minister's sex scandals by saying: "They mainly criticise him because they are jealous."

In the wake of the renewed Western crisis with Russia, Berlusconi claimed he was responsible for the transformation of the G7 to G8. "I was the one in 1994 who invited President Yeltsin at the G7 in Naples and in 2001 to change the G7 to G8 with Putin in Genova. In 2002 I concluded the strategic deal between Nato and Russia at the international meeting in Pratica di Mare.

"I think that these decisions taken by Western diplomacies are reckless and far from this constructive spirit," he said.