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Ukraine’s Zelensky to meet Pope Francis in Rome

May 13, 2023
President Zelensky arrives in Rome on Saturday morning amid a huge security operation. — courtesy EPA
President Zelensky arrives in Rome on Saturday morning amid a huge security operation. — courtesy EPA

ROME — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is visiting Rome, where he is meeting political leaders and having an audience with Pope Francis.

“An important visit for approaching victory of Ukraine!” he tweeted as he landed in the Italian capital.

He met Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella and is now at Vatican talks with the Pope.

A huge security operation greeted the visit, with more than 1,000 police deployed and a no-fly zone over Rome.

President Zelensky held a private meeting with his counterpart President Mattarella, then met Meloni for a working lunch.

Italy historically has strong ties with Moscow. Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the conservative Forza Italia party, is an old friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They went on trips together and exchanged birthday gifts.

Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, has frequently voiced pro-Russian sentiments and criticized military assistance to Ukraine. President Zelensky is not expected to meet either Salvini or Berlusconi during his trip.

At the news conference that followed the meeting between President Zelensky and Meloni, the Ukrainian leader invited “all the Italian political leaders and representatives of civil society” to visit Ukraine.

He said they would be able “to see what a single person was capable of doing to us, what Putin was capable of, and you will understand why we are fighting this evil”.

President Zelensky then set off for the Vatican, where he was due to meet the Pope.

Pope Francis has often said that the Vatican stands ready to act as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Earlier this month, he stated that the Vatican was working on a peace plan to end the war, saying that the mission was “not yet public. When it is public, I will talk about it.”

But the relationship between Ukraine and the Vatican has sometimes been uneasy.

Last August, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican took the unusual step of criticizing the Pope after the pontiff referred to Darya Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist figure, who was killed by a car bomb, as an “innocent” victim of war.

Saturday will be the first time President Zelensky and Pope Francis have met since Russia invaded Ukraine. The pair did meet in 2020.

Meanwhile, the German government unveiled its biggest military aid package for Ukraine yet, worth €2.7billion (£2.4 billion). Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelensky, said the aid indicated that Russia was “bound to lose and sit on the bench of historical shame”.

Earlier this week, German media reported that President Zelensky was planning to visit Germany following his trip to Italy, although this has not yet been confirmed. — BBC


May 13, 2023
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