Late Putin thanks Pope 'for the time you have dedicated to me' at Vatican
Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked Pope Francis for "very substantive" talks yesterday, a day before Ukraine's Catholic leaders were due at the Vatican.
Mr Putin, who has met 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.
"Thank you for the time you have dedicated to me," Mr 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.
Mr 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 Mr 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".
Mr 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.
Ukraine, which remains a bone of contention between the Vatican and Russia, was expected to be a main topic of the men's discussion, held in the official papal library in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
When they last met in 2015, the pope urged Mr 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.
The leaders of Ukraine's Catholic Church today begin two days of meetings at the Vatican to discuss various problems in their former Soviet republic.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had for centuries been effectively under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church, declared its independence and set up a national church.
Mr Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church and Moscow strongly opposed the move, saying it had been done for political rather than religious motives.
Three years ago, Francis held talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba - the first such meeting in history and a landmark step in healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.