The iron man and the peace-man facing each other. It is not the first time that Putin meets the Pope to discuss the most important matters of the international scenario. The last face-to-face at the Vatican dates back to November 25, 2013. The Russian president was 50 minutes late, but the Pope waited for him patiently in order to discuss with him some matters of vital importance for the Church: starting from the Syrian situation, and ending with the living conditions of the Christians in the Federation led by Tsar Putin. Bergoglio gave him a mosaic view of the Vatican Gardens, and received in return one of the most venerated Orthodox icons.
Many things have changed since that first meeting, starting from the Ukraine war that forced Russia to arm itself and hide behind a new Iron Curtain, placed more than two thousand kilometres to the east than the old one. No longer Berlin, but the Donbass. Excluded from the G8, hit by tough economic sanctions, the Putin-Moscow – that last year annexed the Crimea – seems to nurture a Soviet and hegemonic nostalgia, as the US President Barack Obama sadly noticed during the German G7. Well, it is not the Cold War, but it is not far from being so. Recently, a few kilometres from the Russian border, new shooting began, and the truce of Minsk started to totter dangerously. The prospect of a new military escalation concerns Bergoglio, who will discuss the Ukraine crisis with his interlocutor. The content of the discussion between the two leaders was communicated by the spokesman Yuri Ushakov, during a press conference in Moscow. They will discuss “bilateral relations, specific international problems, in particular the situation in Ukraine, and the situation of Christians in the Middle East.”
The unfulfilled aspiration of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is still visible in the distance: an apostolic journey to the Russian capital. To the rumours of an invitation to the Kremlin addressed to Bergoglio by Putin, Ushakov replied vaguely: “They will treat several issues, but I don’t know if they will talk about a visit of the Pope, because this is a matter that concerns not only the state but also the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church”. The final decision on such a sensitive subject is therefore a prerogative of Patriarch Kirill. And although things have changed since the days of Alexis II, the prospect of an embrace between the two oldest institutions of Christendom in 2015 remains a remote hypothesis.
Among the topics discussed, there will almost certainly be also those related to climate change, on the eve of the Pope’s encyclical on the environmental protection. After meeting with Bergoglio, Putin – that during the day will also meet Mattarella, Renzi and his friend Berlusconi – will speak with the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, ace of the Vatican diplomacy. The today meeting with Pope Francis is the fifth papal audience at the Vatican for Putin: the first time for the Russian President coincided with the Jubilee of 2000, announced by Pope John Paul II. The Russian President, then, met Karol Wojtyla again in 2003. The audience with Pope Benedict XVI dates back to 2007. Finally the meeting with Pope Francis in November 2013, before the bitter cold spread over Europe.
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo