Rather than merely calling Vladimir Putin on the telephone to congratulate him on his March 4 election victory for a new term as president of Russia, Silvio Berlusconi hopped in his jet and headed for Sochi, the Russian resort town that will be the site for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Italian billionaire and media mogul, who resigned his position as Italy’s prime minister last November, is embroiled in legal battles over charges of bribery, corruption, illegal wiretapping, and sex with an underage prostitute, but those concerns took back burner to his party time with Putin.
Whatever his legal troubles may be, it was all smiles as Berlusconi was photographed hugging his longtime pal Putin and current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the Krasnaya Polyvana ski resort. London’s Daily Mail featured a photo slide show of the trio on the slopes and dining at a café in Sochi.
Russia Today (RT.tv), the Kremlin-run Putin propaganda channel, also featured a video of the three amigos.
The Berlusconi/Putin relationship has been a source of speculation and gossip for years. Berlusconi has made many trips to Putin-land and the former KGB/FSB chief has reciprocated, visiting Berlusconi’s huge luxury estate in the exclusive Porto Cervo enclave on the island of Sardinia’s Emerald Coast. Putin has even sent his teenage daughters to vacation at Berlusconi’s villa, a move that certainly calls into question Putin’s parental wisdom, considering the 75-year-old Berlusconi’s notoriety for bacchanalian orgies (as widely reported, for instance, here, here, and here) with young women, known as his “Bunga-Bunga Parties.”
And, as we reported last year, the Putin-Berlusconi plot thickened when Putin bought a neighboring luxury villa (albeit much smaller than Berlusconi’s) at Porto Cervo for 10 million euros. Where did Putin acquire the resources to buy a vacation domicile on one of the toniest pieces of real estate on the planet? He surely couldn’t have swung such a deal on his official KGB pay alone, or his salary as president or prime minister. The fact that that question was not even an issue in the Russian elections speaks volumes about the business-as-usual attitude toward institutionalized political corruption in Russia. Putin is, after all, the chief don or godfather in the Mafia State known as Russia, and it is more or less expected that he will partake of the same benefits that he and his Kremlin cronies have showered upon their favored oligarchs.
Mr. Berlusconi, of course, already boasted a huge personal fortune before assuming political office. That does not, however, make him immune to temptations to use his political connections to boost his business investments. The French television channel, France 24, reported recently:
Berlusconi was one of Putin's closest European allies before falling from power last year. He frequently came to Russia not just for diplomatic business but to celebrate his friend's birthday and other personal visits and clearly shares Putin's penchant for a macho lifestyle.
Diplomats in the US cables leaked by Wikileaks also described Berlusconi as acting as Putin's "mouthpiece" in Europe as well as "profiting personally and handsomely" in exchange.One of the main targets of concern has been the Berlusconi/Putin-brokered South Stream gas pipeline, a massive joint project of Italy’s largest energy company, ENI, and Russia’s state-owned Gazprom.
Another close friend of former KGB agent Putin´s is, as we have previously pointed out, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has made his fortune thanks to his support of the Russian de facto dictator.