Putin to Meet Pope Francis for Third Time…Will Putin come with Icon of Virgin Mary as Gift?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet again with Pope Francis and Italian government leaders this week. (Gregorio Borgia/Pool/Reuters)

Chico HarlanRome bureau chief covering southern Europe \

July 2 at 4:22 PM

ROME — Italy’s populist government, when it took power last year, appeared to present Russian President Vladimir Putin with everything he could want from a major Western European country. The new Italian leaders were anti-establishment chaos-agents who were dubious about the European Union, NATO’s buildup in Eastern Europe and sanctions on Moscow.

But a year later, Putin has found in Italy something more modest: a government that speaks warmly about the Kremlin, but that hasn’t dramatically broken from policies favored by Washington and other European capitals.

Putin is scheduled to visit Rome on Thursday for a one-day trip that analysts say is designed to cultivate the friendship between the countries at a time when Russia is playing a more ambitious and divisive role around the world.

The Russian president will spend time with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, as well as with Pope Francis, with whom he has met twice before.

(Last visit Putin with Pope Francis)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin showed off his religious side during a visit Monday to the Vatican, stopping to cross himself and kiss an icon of the Madonna that he gave to Pope Francis. But Moscow’s improving relations with the Vatican went only so far: Putin didn’t invite Francis to visit.

The Vatican said Monday that ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches weren’t really discussed during the 35-minute discussion between Putin and Francis in the pope’s private library, though Putin brought greetings from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

Rather, the discussions between Putin and the pope, and then Putin and the Vatican’s top diplomats, focused on Syria and the role of Christianity in society.