23 January 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Pope urges Putin to commit to Ukraine peace

A stern Pope Francis urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to make a “sincere and great effort” to achieve peace in Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Meeting for about 50 minutes in the Vatican, the two agreed on the need to re-establish a climate of dialogue in Ukraine and to implement a peace deal designed to end fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels, according to the Vatican.

The meeting underlined how Francis has been increasingly using his role for diplomatic ends, the news agency said.

Last year, the pontiff brokered a deal between Cuba and the United States to resume diplomatic relations after more than half a century.

Putin, who has been shunned by the Group of Seven nations over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year, was received with full honors and regalia at the Vatican, including a ceremonial Swiss Guard welcome.

But the Argentine pope, who is usually chatty with world leaders when they enter his study, seemed stiff and exceptionally formal when he greeted Putin with a curt “willkommen” (welcome) in German. Both men remained silent until reporters were ushered out.

The tone of the Vatican statement after Wednesday’s meeting also suggested Francis had been blunt with Putin behind closed doors.

The word “cordial”, which is used in nearly every Vatican statement about the pope’s talks with a world leader, did not appear.

Earlier on Wednesday, the US ambassador to the Vatican, Ken Hackett, urged it to criticize Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict more forcefully.

“It does seem that Russia is supporting the insurgents and does seem that there are Russian troops inside Ukraine,” Hackett said.

Moscow has dismissed Western accusations that it is arming the separatists in eastern Ukraine and sending its own soldiers to join the fight, the report said.

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