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Putin meets with pope as Ukraine crisis looms

Reuters VATICAN CITY (Reuters) — Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked Pope Francis for “very substantive” talks on Thursday, a day before Ukraine’s Catholic leaders were due at the Vatican.

Putin, who has met with Francis twice before, arrived an hour late. He had been 50 minutes late for their first meeting in 2013 and more than an hour late for their second in 2015 — highly unusual for world leaders meeting the pope.

“Thank you for the time you have dedicated to me,” Putin said at the end of 55 minutes of talks, helped by two interpreters.

“It was a very substantive, interesting discussion,” he told the pope within earshot of reporters as they were exchanging gifts in the frescoed private papal study, which Francis uses only for official occasions.

A Vatican statement said the talks concentrated on the situations in Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.

Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who did not join the talks, later held a separate meeting with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and its foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

Francis gave Putin a signed copy of his peace message for this year and a large 18th century etching of St. Peter’s Square, “so you don’t forget Rome.”

Putin gave the pope a DVD of a movie about the Renaissance master painter and sculptor Michelangelo by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky and a large painted Orthodox icon of the apostles Peter and Paul.

When they last met in 2015, the pope urged Putin to make a “sincere and great effort” to achieve peace in Ukraine and help bring an end to fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels in the east.Speech

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