VATICAN, July 4 - A day before he is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian Catholic leaders, Pope Francis welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking with him for just under an hour about a variety of issues, Fox News reported.
Francis and Putin, who met at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, discussed “various questions of relevance to the life of the Catholic Church in Russia,” the Vatican said in a statement, adding that they also covered “the ecological question and various themes relating to current international affairs, with particular reference to Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.”
The pair also expressed their satisfaction at the development of bilateral relations during the “cordial discussions,” the Vatican said.
“It was a very substantive, interesting discussion,” Putin told journalists after the meeting.
The meeting, part of Putin’s one-day visit to Rome, comes a day before Catholic leaders from Ukraine gather at the Holy See to discuss the continuing conflict there and the fallout from the schism between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.
The Vatican said the aim is to lend support “in the delicate situation in which Ukraine finds itself.”
Last year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine formally split from the Russian Orthodox Church in a schism recognized by the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. The push for a full-fledged and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was bolstered by fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.
Some observers believe that Putin’s visit could be a prelude to a papal visit to Russia. No pope has ever set foot in Russia, but Putin’s foreign affairs adviser said the issue wasn’t on the agenda for the visit.
Putin has acknowledged that U.S. and European Union sanctions have cost Russia an estimated $50 billion since 2014, but he claims that the bloc’s nations have suffered even greater damage because of the restrictions.
The Russian president, on his first visit to Italy in four years, said in written responses to Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera that Moscow didn’t want to extend countermeasures against EU sanctions to Italy, but that it couldn’t react selectively within the World Trade Organization.
Putin said that economic relations with Italy, Russia’s fifth-largest trading partner, are expanding despite the sanctions. Italian investments in Russia so far this year have reached $4.7 billion, while Russian investments in Italy in the same period were $2.7 billion. (ap/ez)