Putin and the Pope – reaction in Italy


June 19, 2015

By Cristian Barberi

Although not very well publicized, the visit of Putin to Italy turned out to be quite an important one, since it gave a hint to where the geopolitical balance in Europe might be shifting. 

In Europe and around the world the visit wasn’t well publicized prior to Putin’s arrival in Italy, and even in Italy it didn’t make the headlines. But once Putin had arrived, the meeting with Matteo Renzi , Pope Francis and Mattarella (the President of the Italian Republic) made the headlines in all major Italian newspapers. Putin first met Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister of Italy, in Milan at the Expo and then flew to Rome to meet the Pope and the President of the Republic. 

The headlines of the  two most important newspapers, “La Repubblica” and “Il Corriere della Sera”, obviously were centered on the sanctions and the economic damage caused by them. “La Repubblica” headlined “Putin to Renzi: No More Sanctions, They Are Hurting Italy As Well”, “Il Corriere della Sera” titled a very similar headline: “Putin to Renzi and the Entrepreneurs: The Sanctions Hurt  All of You As Well”, as you might have noticed originality in Italian journalism is not prevalent. 

The Catholic newspapers have focused their headlines on the peace process in Ukraine, the newspaper  “L’Avvernire” (independent from the Vatican) headlined: “The Pope to Putin: All Must be Engaged in the Peace Process,” mentioning Pope’s demands regarding the full implementation of the Minsk protocol and a further engagement of all parties in the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ukraine, as well as talks about the Middle East. 

“L’Osservatore Romano”, the Vatican’s official newspaper, headlined with a very formal: “Hearing with the President of the Russian Federation”, also mentioning in the article the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East. 

It is obvious what Putin’s triple aim was in this visit: firstly, he wanted to show to the G7 countries that he still has partners in the West; secondly he wants to re-establish more close economic ties with a historical partner like Italy, a partner defined by Putin as his most valuable partner in the EU; thirdly he sought advice from a millenary institution like the Vatican that, whether you like it or not, is way more powerful than it seems. 

Apart from the economic issues, in my opinion the actual aim of Putin was to discuss core issues with the Pope, a figure far more influential than Matteo Renzi, a useless bankers’ puppet. Putin didn’t come to Italy to talk with a politician who has limited influence, whether in Italy or abroad; as I previously said, it seems that the conversation between Putin and the Pope focused on the Ukraine and the Middle East crises; “Vatican Insider” (an online newspaper connected to the Italian newspaper La Stampa published in Italian, Spanish and English) wrote “Pope Francis’ aim is not to obtain political support or form ‘Holy Alliances’ with world’s powers, but to make a disinterested contribution to preventing the causes of the conflict”, and still “ the Pope and Vatican diplomacy do not intend to set up a ‘cordone sanitaire’ against Putin’s Russia as some Western circles would like to do”. From these statements referring to the Vatican communique about the conversation between the two counterparts, we clearly see a stance independent from the Euro-Atlantic powers’ narrative. 

A further proof of this independence is the fact that Kenneth Hackett, the US ambassador to the Holy See said: “Maybe this is an opportunity for the Holy Father to privately raise those concerns,” but there was no mention in the Vatican communique of Hackett’s statement. 

At the end of the hearing Putin and Pope Francis exchanged gifts, Putin gave to the Pope an embroidery that portrays the Church of Christ the Saviour, the one that Stalin blew up in 1931 and was re-built in the ‘90s by Yeltsyn, while the Pope gave Putin a locket made by the late artist Guido Veroi that depicts the angel of peace. 

Putin’s visit to Italy comes with  great timing because as a Grexit is looming, with Greece probably moving closer to Russia from the economic and geopolitical standpoint, the presence of Putin in Italy and at the Vatican gives some hint about what’s brewing underneath. It is also worth mentioning the meeting between Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher,Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who addressed the same issues of the two heads of states. 

Delving into the core meaning of the Putin-Pope Francis meeting, the real reason for Putin’s visit in Italy, we can assume that Putin asked the Pope for advice concerning all the issues Russia must face at the moment, and we can be more than sure that they talked about the kind of approach Putin might have in the future with the US and NATO. 

Putin’s visit, ultimately, from the standpoint of the Italian people, definitely gave the feeling that the Russian President is increasingly appreciated in this country for the stern and effective opposition to the Euro-Atlantic arrogance, whether financial or geopolitical. This popularity doesn’t come as a surprise, as the long-standing support Putin has enjoyed in Italy over the last years has been steadfast; this is despite of the harsh anti-Russian propaganda of certain Italian media outlets, which are completely dedicated to the Euro-Atlantic narrative. There’s the feeling that something is changing in Europe, but will it be enough to prevent this continent from yet again being the theater of another world war?

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