Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday he was deeply disappointed and saddened by the behaviour of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The tycoon, who for years enjoyed a close friendship with the Russian leader, said Mr Putin had to take full responsibility in the eyes of the world for the invasion of Ukraine.
“I got to know him 20 years ago, and he had always seemed to me a man of democracy and peace … what a pity,” Mr Berlusconi said, addressing a convention of his conservative Forza Italia party in Rome.
The comments were the first time Mr Berlusconi has spoken in public of Mr Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The Kremlin calls the action a special operation aimed at demilitarising and “de-Nazifying” its neighbour — which Ukraine and its allies dismissed as a baseless pretext for war.
Mr Berlusconi, who in 2015 called Mr Putin “undoubtedly the number one among world leaders”, once described the Russian leader, 69, as being like a younger brother.
The two visited each other in Russia and in Italy and have been photographed giggling during official visits.
Mr Berlusconi, 85, was prime minister for several periods: 1994-95, 2001-2006, and 2008-2011.
“The attack on Ukraine, instead of bringing Russia into Europe has thrown it into the arms of China … what a pity, what a pity,” he said.