The second most senior Vatican official, Pietro Parolin, arrives in Russia today to hold talks with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Orthodox Church, and President Vladimir Putin over the coming days.
Relations between the Holy See and the Kremlin have warmed significantly since the two restored diplomatic ties in 2009—last year Pope Francis sent a widely publicised letter to the Russian President in which he asked Mr Putin for his prayers. Also in 2016, Francis and Patriarch Kiril–who is said to have close ties to Mr Putin–met in Havana.
As the West has sanctioned against Russia over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the Vatican has shown a friendlier face. Both its efforts to improve relations with its “brothers in the Christian faith” and its position that many are to blame for the Eastern Ukrainian conflict are water on the Kremlin’s mills.
While Catholicism has relatively few followers in Russia, good relations with the Vatican allow Moscow to portray itself as the defender of Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.
Today’s visit marks another important milestone in the mutual embrace between Moscow and Rome, as the Vatican is increasingly pivoting away from Washington.
David is the Europe team’s leader and senior editor. David has a background in EU financial and immigration legislation.