Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is visiting Russia-occupied Crimea in a sign of symbolic support of his close friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi has previously hosted Putin's family at his villa on the Italian island of Sardinia. The two spent a weekend together at a vacation home in Siberia in June and met briefly in Rome when Putin visited Italy this summer.

The West has condemned Russia for annexing the Ukrainian peninsula with the U.S. and European nations formally discouraging its citizens from visiting Crimea.

Russian state news agencies reported that Berlusconi on Friday visited a cemetery for Italian soldiers killed in the 1853-1856 Crimean war in Sevastopol. He is expected to meet Putin later this weekend.