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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Irony in Berlusconi's Defense

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Did President Vladimir Putin see the irony in being defended by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi when asked in Rome about the case against Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky?

Like Khodorkovsky, Berlusconi is his country's richest man and, as Khodorkovsky may well attempt to do, he parlayed his fortune into election to its highest office.

Berlusconi has faced numerous allegations of corruption and tax fraud, which, again like Khodorkovsky, he has blamed on politically motivated prosecutors. Some of the allegations were even related to the privatization of a state company.

But unlike Khodorkovsky, Berlusconi really does control his country's parliament, and this past summer it passed a law granting him immunity from prosecution.

So how rich that Berlusconi should come to Putin's defense when he is asked by a Le Monde reporter about the rule of law in Russia in light of the Yukos case.

Berlusconi said he had direct knowledge of "precise violations" of the law by Yukos and knew personally "that within the Russian Federation there is a desire for transparency, correctness and a fight against corruption." One only wonders how he could say that with a straight face.

On the other hand, perhaps Berlusconi is better compared to Putin after all. Both have a habit of creating scandals with their remarks at EU gatherings, whether it is by inviting a French reporter to Moscow for a circumcision or by comparing a German member of the European Parliament to a concentration camp guard.

Both also control most of their country's television channels, which has come in handy when they have let their emotions get away from them, as in the above instances.

They also have shown little tolerance for an independent, critical press. In his response to the Le Monde reporter, Putin all but implied that he was on the Yukos payroll.

We can only hope that when Ireland takes over the rotating EU presidency at the first of the year the comparisons with Russia will be of a different kind. Wouldn't it be nice to see Russia noted most for its great literature and music and phenomenal economic growth?