Putin may benefit from meeting of pope and patriarch

Wed Feb 10, 2016 12:50pm EST
 
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By Philip Pullella and Maria Tsvetkova

VATICAN CITY/MOSCOW (Reuters) - A meeting between Pope Francis and Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday could not happen without a green light from President Vladimir Putin, diplomats and analysts say, and he may be one the beneficiaries.

In a landmark step towards healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, the two religious leaders will meet in Havana on the pope's way to Mexico.

"There is no doubt the Kremlin took part in making this decision," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former Kremlin adviser in Moscow. "Otherwise the meeting would not have happened."

Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), making Friday's two-hour private meeting not just a religious event but politically charged as well, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria.

"Putin clearly sees the value of his relationship with the ROC and the ROC's relationship with the pope," said a diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"He understands the pope is a big player on the world stage and I think that he would be happy about having the possibility of using the improved relations between the Vatican and the ROC to get the Kremlin's view across to the Vatican," he said.

Alexander Volkov, Russian church spokesman, said that while a joint declaration will dwell on the Middle East's persecuted Christians, tensions between Russia and the West may be brought up in the talks.

"This is one of the burning issues and we can assume it will be reflected in the dialogue. It can't be ruled out," he said.   Continued...

 
Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch talks during an interview with Reuters in Rome February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi