Italy's far-right interior minister and deputy premier Matteo Renzi on Friday said that Russia had a popular mandate to annex the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and denied the referendum that preceded it was fake.
"There was a referendum, and 90 percent of the people voted for the return of Crimea to the Russian Federation," Salvini told the Washington Post in an interview.
"Compare it to the fake revolution in Ukraine, which was a pseudo-revolution funded by foreign powers — similar to the Arab Spring revolutions," he stated.
"There are some historically Russian zones with Russian culture and traditions which legitimately belong to the Russian Federation," he argued.
Russian officials claim the 16 March referendum took place in accordance with international law. But The United Nations General Assembly in March 2014 adopted a resolution backing Ukraine's territorial integrity and declaring that the referendum had "no validity".
Salvini also said he backed lifting European Union sanctions against Russia.
"They didn’t prove to be useful, and according to the data, they hurt Italian exports," he said.
The EU slapped sanctions on Russia over its 2014 intervention in Ukraine, prompting Russia to respond with agricultural counter-sanctions.