Pope Francis warmly received Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to the Vatican, Ivan Soltanovsky, in a diplomatic ceremony held on Monday.
During their meeting, the Pope conveyed his unwavering commitment to advancing his peace and humanitarian initiatives aimed at alleviating the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Ivan Soltanovsky, a seasoned 68-year-old career diplomat, officially presented his credentials to Pope Francis, taking over the role previously held by Alexander Avdeev, who was serving as the Russian ambassador when Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It’s worth noting that Pope Francis had demonstrated his deep concern over the situation in Ukraine by making a surprise visit to the Russian embassy in Rome shortly after the invasion, where he conveyed his distress to Ambassador Avdeev.
In his discussions with Ambassador Soltanovsky, Pope Francis expressed his sincere interest in continuing the Vatican’s mission for peace in Ukraine. This mission has been spearheaded by Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who has undertaken several diplomatic visits to key capitals, including Kyiv, Moscow, Washington, and Beijing, with plans for a forthcoming return to Russia. Notably, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had expressed readiness to meet with Cardinal Zuppi during his initial visit to Moscow in June, though this meeting did not come to fruition, as it was met with lower-ranking Russian officials.
The situation in Ukraine has been complex, with Kyiv indicating that it would only be open to Vatican mediation if Russia met all of its demands, which include a complete Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory. In light of these challenges, Cardinal Zuppi’s mission has been refocused on garnering international support for humanitarian efforts, particularly concerning the repatriation of Ukrainian children. Kyiv has estimated that nearly 19,500 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea since the war’s commencement, a move Kyiv condemns as illegal deportations.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, accusing him of war crimes related to the unlawful deportation of hundreds of children from Ukraine. It is noteworthy that Russia, not being a member of the ICC, denies committing such war crimes.
In another significant development, Pope Francis expressed his desire to arrange another meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill has been an outspoken supporter of President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, viewing them as a defensive stance against perceived decadence in the West.
The initial historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill took place in Cuba in 2016. This meeting marked the first time in over a millennium that a Pope had engaged in dialogue with a Russian Orthodox Patriarch, bridging a longstanding divide in Christianity dating back to the Great Schism of 1054.
Efforts to facilitate a second meeting between the two spiritual leaders in Jerusalem and Kazakhstan last year unfortunately faltered due to diplomatic complications linked to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Pope Francis welcomed Russia’s new ambassador to the Vatican, Ambassador Ivan Soltanovsky, reaffirming his commitment to peace and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. The Pope also expressed his desire for another meeting with Patriarch Kirill, despite the religious leader’s support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
The situation in Ukraine remains complex, with ongoing international efforts aimed at mitigating the humanitarian crisis and addressing allegations of war crimes.