True friends are hard to find, and even harder to keep. But in a friendship that has lasted 14 years, the Russian President Vladimir Putin has found a kindred spirit in Italy’s disgraced former leader, Silvio Berlusconi.
He kept Pope Francis waiting, and last October turned up over an hour late for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but make his long-distance best friend wait? Never.
After a 50-minute chat with the Pope on Wednesday evening, Putin dashed off to the airport, where he snatched a hug with Berlusconi before heading home.
It had been a long day for the Russian leader. He used his short trip to Italy to make his case against sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, while insisting he was committed to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
And who better to wind down the day with than his old pal.
They say a good friend will always have your back, and this pair have been through thick and thin together since they first crossed paths in 2001, fighting each other’s corner whenever they can.
Last year, after Russia annexed Crimea, Berlusconi leapt to his friend’s defence.
Never mind that thousands have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Berlusconi described his pal as a “good boy” and said it was “reckless” to ban him from the G8.
He also once called Putin, who he admires for his “macho” style of leadership, a “Godsend to Russians”.
In return, Putin has long defended the three-time Italian premier over his various scandals.
In 2013, at the height of Berlusconi’s trial over the ‘bunga bunga’ party sex scandal, Putin said people criticized him because they were “jealous”, joking that his friend would not have ended up in court if he was gay.
His exact words were: “Berlusconi faces trial for bedding women. If he was gay, no one would ever lay a finger on him.”
But it hasn’t always been politics and scandals. The pair have regularly got together over the last 14 years, whether for a holiday, late-night drink or just to play with each other’s pets.
Here are some of the best pictures of a special friendship.
The early days
Believe it or not, there was a time when Putin wanted to fully integrate Russia with the EU, and who better to help coordinate that than his newly-found friend, Berlusconi.
This photo was taken in 2002, when the friendship was still in its early days, so maybe the Russian leader wanted to play it safe by wooing Berlusconi with a tea party in Sochi, complete with traditional Russian pies.
Getting to know each other
When two hearts come together, they eagerly want to let the other know about their lives. A year after the tea party, Putin invited Berlusconi to his rural lodge, Zavidovo, outside Moscow, and presented him with a book about the place.
It was all about books in 2002. Here the pals examine The Berlusconi Effect, a book published in Moscow that year.
Berlusconi then returned the favour by inviting Putin to his villa in Sardinia – which later became famous for the “bunga bunga” parties. But before the holiday got underway, the pair shared a joke at a press conference in Olbia.
Meeting eachother’s (ex) wives
It was August 2005 and the two leaders had much to discuss, such as expanding cultural and humanitarian ties between their countries. And so they met at Putin’s residence in Sochi, bearing gifts for each other’s wives. Both were no doubt there for each other when they went through their divorces – Berlusconi from Veronica and Putin from Ludmilla. Both divorces were finalized in 2014.
…and their pets
During the trip to Sochi that year, Berlusconi also got to meet Putin’s dwarf horses. Putin is also well acquainted with Dudù, Berlusconi’s pet dog.
A day out on the slopes
Enjoying a day on the slopes together, and some mulled wine, at the Rosa Khutor alpine ski resort in Russia’s Krasnaya Polyana in March 2012.
But it hasn’t always been fun and games
We’ve no idea what’s being discussed here. Perhaps Berlusconi, who was born in the fashion capital of Milan, had mocked Putin’s dress sense?
A friend in need is a friend indeed
But regardless of any differences, they’re always there to lend each other an ear.