WikiLeaks shows U.S. concern at Berlusconi-Putin tie

* Cables say policy “designed to deny Russia nothing”

* Cables highlight power of energy group ENI

* Berlusconi says acted only in interests of Italy

By James Mackenzie

ROME, Dec 2 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. diplomats voiced concern over
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ties to Russian
leader Vladimir Putin and the grip of energy interests on Rome’s
foreign policy, according to cables made public by WikiLeaks.

The whistle-blowing website had previously given a flavour
of the U.S. view of Berlusconi, described in extracts as Putin’s
“mouthpiece”, but what appears to be a full cable from the U.S.
embassy in Rome, published on Thursday, fills out an assessment
that depicts Italy as in thrall to Moscow.

The WikiLeaks revelations have increased pressure on
Berlusconi, weakened by months of sex scandals and party
infighting. He faces a no-confidence vote in parliament this
month which could topple his centre-right government.

“A foreign policy designed to deny Russia nothing” is the
headline on one section of the 2009 cable, which highlighted the
powerful role of oil and gas group ENI (ENI.MI: ) and contained
allegations that Berlusconi and associates may have profited
from energy deals with Russia.

The cable says Berlusconi sidelined Foreign Minister Franco
Frattini almost entirely, going directly to Putin with whom he
exchanged “lavish gifts” and considered he had a personal bond.

“The basis of the friendship is hard to determine but many
interlocutors have told us that Berlusconi believes that Putin,
a fellow ‘tycoon’, trusts Berlusconi more than any other
European leader,” the cable from Ambassador Ronald Spogli read.

It said the Italian prime minister’s advisers were reluctant
to challenge him over his relationship with the Russian leader
but even some members of his own PDL party had expressed concern
over Berlusconi’s “giddiness about Putin.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has this week gone
out of her way to placate Berlusconi, described in an earlier
leaked diplomatic cable as “feckless, vain and ineffective as a
modern European leader”. It alleged he was exhausted by
“partying hard”.

On the sidelines of a summit meeting in Kazakhstan on
Wednesday, she said: “We have no better friend.”

But the leaked document shows serious concern that
Berlusconi, who irritated Washington with his support for Moscow
during the 2008 Georgian war, was working “overtime” within the
European Union on Moscow’s behalf.

“His overwhelming desire is to remain in Putin’s good
graces, and he has frequently voiced opinions and declarations
that have been passed to him directly by Putin,” the cable said.

ENERGY

Berlusconi, who has been in Kazakhstan for a meeting of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said
Italy’s relationship with the United States would not be
affected by the reports and he denied any improper behaviour.

“The United States knows very well that I have absolutely no
interests with any other country, that there are no personal
interests at all but that I have only acted with the interests
of Italians and my country at heart,” he was quoted by Italian
news agency ANSA as saying.

The leaked cable highlighted the role allegedly played by
Valentino Valentini, a Russian-speaking member of parliament who
it said operated as Berlusconi’s “key man on Russia.”

“What he does in Moscow during his frequent visits is
unclear but he is widely rumoured to be looking after
Berlusconi’s business interests in Russia,” it said.

In a statement, Valentini dismissed the leaks as “corridor
chatter” which reflected the partial views of one ambassador.

“In reality, there is nothing mysterious about the
relationship between Russia and Italy as I have often had the
opportunity to tell Ambassador Spogli directly,” he said.

As well as the comments on Berlusconi, the cable highlights
the role played in Italian foreign policy by ENI, whose view of
the European energy situation “was disturbingly similar to that
of (Russian gas giant) Gazprom and the Kremlin”.

It said ENI wielded immense political power and ran a
lobbying effort that was better funded than most government
offices and which overshadowed the underfunded and overstretched
Foreign Ministry.

“One member of the opposition center-left PD party told
political officers that ENI’s presence in Russia exceeds that of
Italy’s understaffed embassy,” it said.

No comment was immediately available from ENI.
(Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri; editing by Barry
Moody and Janet Lawrence)

WikiLeaks shows U.S. concern at Berlusconi-Putin tie