Putin’s Envoy Meets with Pope Francis – What’s the Purpose?

Pope Francis welcomed Russia’s new ambassador to the Vatican on Monday, September 18, 2023. The envoy reported that the Pope told him he is determined to continue his initiatives for peace and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

The envoy, Ivan Soltanovsky, stated that Pope Francis also expressed his desire to meet once again with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who strongly supported President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Soltanovsky, a 68-year-old career diplomat, presented his credentials to Pope Francis at the Vatican, replacing Alexander Avdeev, who became the ambassador when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Pope Francis had previously visited the Russian embassy in Rome in a surprise visit one day after the invasion on February 24, 2022, to express his concerns to Avdeev.

“Pope Francis expressed his interest in continuing the peace mission,” Soltanovsky told RIA Novosti news agency, as quoted by Reuters, referring to the efforts of Pope’s special envoy, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Italy.

Zuppi has visited Kyiv, Moscow, Washington, and Beijing, and he will return to Russia in the near future.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that he is willing to meet with Zuppi, a meeting that did not occur during the cardinal’s first trip to Moscow in June, where he was received by lower-level Russian officials.

After Ukraine insisted that they would not accept Vatican mediation unless Russia meets all of Kyiv’s demands, including a complete Russian withdrawal, Zuppi’s mission focused on garnering support for humanitarian efforts. This includes the return of Ukrainian children. Kyiv estimates that nearly 19,500 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea since the beginning of the war, which has been condemned as illegal deportation.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in March against Putin, accusing him of war crimes for the illegal deportation of hundreds of children from Ukraine. Russia, not being a member of the ICC, denied committing war crimes.

Soltanovsky also told RIA Novosti that the Pope expressed his desire to meet with Kirill again.

Kirill enthusiastically supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, viewing it as a bulwark against what he saw as the decadent Western countries. The meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill in Cuba in 2016 was the first meeting between a Pope and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch since the Great Schism of 1054 that divided Christianity into Eastern and Western branches.

Two attempts to hold a second meeting last year, one in Jerusalem and another in Kazakhstan, failed due to diplomatic difficulties related to the conflict in Ukraine.