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Pope Encourages Putin To Engage In 'Sincere' Peace Efforts In Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Wednesday with Italian officials and Pope Francis, as the U.S. sought to encourage the Vatican to join the West in condemning Moscow's actions in Ukraine.
Luca Bruno
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Wednesday with Italian officials and Pope Francis, as the U.S. sought to encourage the Vatican to join the West in condemning Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Updated 1:50 a.m. ET Thursday:

Russian President Vladimir Putin was about an hour and 20 minutes late for his meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday. The two greeted each other in German and spent about 50 minutes in closed-door talks.

On the topic of eastern Ukraine, the pope encouraged Putin to make "sincere" efforts to bring peace to Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists are battling government troops.

The Associated Press reports: "There was no mention of any blame regarding Ukraine, although the protracted hostilities in that Eastern European nation bordering Russia was a main thrust of the discussion."

The United States had urged the pontiff to take a hard line with Putin over Ukraine, according to USA Today.

The Associated Press report also says: "While Francis has deplored the loss of life in Ukraine and called on all sides to respect what has proven to be a shaky cease-fire, he hasn't publicly put any blame on Russia in an apparent bid not to upset the Holy See's delicate and often thorny relations with the Orthodox Church in Russia, where Catholics are a tiny minority."

Putin and the pope also discussed the fate of the Christian minority in the Middle East, according to the AP report.

Original Post:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis on Wednesday will meet for the second time.

Russia Today, the English-language news outlet of the Russian government, reports that Putin will head to the Vatican for the meeting. RT reports:

"The two men champion similar conservative values in a rapidly changing world, as well as concerns for emerging threats to Christianity. During their last meeting in 2013, Putin and the Pope discussed the danger Christians face in the Middle East at the hands of radical Islamists.

"The meeting is expected to touch upon Ukraine and the civil war in the east of the country. Pope Francis has been rejecting calls from the Ukrainian Catholic Church to condemn Russia over allegations that it's fueling aggression, and instead called on all parties involved to cease hostilities."

Of course, this all comes on the heels of a meeting of the G-7 countries, which for the second year in a row left out Russia. Western powers have objected to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The Guardian reports that the American ambassador to the Vatican, Kenneth Hackett, called on Pope Francis to bring up concerns about "territorial integrity."

The Guardian adds:

"'Maybe this is an opportunity for the Holy Father to privately raise those concerns,' Hackett said. Pope Francis had 'certainly' been made aware of the violence in Ukraine and was not unaware of the crisis, he added."

Time takes a broader look, saying the meeting will test Pope Francis' diplomatic powers. Remember, both President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro gave the pontiff credit for his help in bringing decades-long tensions between those two countries to an end this winter.

"The Russian conflict is very different," Time explains. "Even if Francis chooses to take a tougher line with Putin, there are limits to his influence. Putin has not been persuaded by the actions of the G7, after all, and the Vatican's primary superpower is a moral one."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is an international correspondent for NPR. He was named NPR's Mexico City correspondent in 2022. Before that, he was based in Cape Town, South Africa.
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