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Pope Urges Putin To Commit To 'Sincere' Effort For Peace

  • RFE/RL

Pope Francis (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of a private audience at the Vatican on June 10.

Pope Francis (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of a private audience at the Vatican on June 10.

The Vatican says Pope Francis has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to commit himself to a "sincere and great effort" for peace in Ukraine.

A statement issued after Francis and Putin met for about 50 minutes in the Vatican on June 10 added that the two agreed on the need to recreate a climate of dialogue and to implement the Minsk agreement, a peace deal struck in the Belarusian capital earlier this year.

The pontiff presented Putin with an "angel of peace" medallion.

"It is the angel who wins all wars and speaks of solidarity between all peoples," the pontiff told the Russian leader.

It was the men's second meeting since Francis became pope in 2013.

Ahead of the talks, the leader of the Rome-aligned Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, expressed hope that the talks between Putin and Francis "will help to stop war in Ukraine."

During his one-day trip to Italy, Putin earlier held talks in Rome with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, and in Milan with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Renzi lauded the "traditional Italian Russian friendship" but also referred to "divergent positions" on certain issues.

At a joint press conference, Renzi cited the need to face "challenges, both those that see us holding divergent positions as well as those that unite us."

Putin said after the talks that the full implementation of the Minsk agreement was vital to ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Putin added that there was no alternative to a peaceful settlement of that conflict.

The Russian leader also told Renzi that sanctions imposed over Russia's actions in Ukraine would cost Italian companies 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion).

Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, including with military equipment and troops, a charge that Moscow denies.

Russia has countered that Kyiv is not carrying out its obligations under the Minsk cease-fire.

Putin arrived in Italy just two weeks before the European Union is scheduled to vote on extending economic sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

Russia enjoys better relations with Italy than most EU members. But Italy is unlikely to break ranks with the Group of Seven (G7), which warned Moscow this week that it would increase sanctions if violence in Ukraine increased.

Seeking Peace

Father Svyatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church told reporters in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on June 9 that he believed that Christians should strive to promote peace and reconciliation and his parishioners prayed every day for peace in Ukraine's east, where more than 6,400 people have been killed in just over a year of fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists.

"Ukraine's independence is a matter of European security and peace in the European Union," the archbishop told journalists, adding that Francis was well-informed about what is happening in Ukraine, and calling the pontiff's meeting with Putin "one way to stop this war."

"We, Catholics, believe that the Holy Father, as a follower of Christ on Earth, has a special grace of the Holy Spirit, which will not allow the continuation of this aggression and war," the archbishop said.

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, said Washington "would like to see the Vatican increase its" concern about events in Ukraine.

"We think they could say something more about concern of territorial integrity, those types of issues," Hackett said. "It does seem that Russia is supporting the insurgents. And it does seem that there are Russian troops inside Ukraine. This is a very serious situation."

After his visit to the Vatican, Putin is expected to call on long-standing friend Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon and disgraced former Italian prime minister. The two men, who have regularly holidayed together, last met in Milan in October, while Berlusconi was still serving a community-service order for tax fraud.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, Reuters, dpa, AP, and News.ugcc.ua
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