The Italian trip of Russian president Vladimir Putin was very important from the political point of view because it clearly showed that the Italian government did not want to break relations with Moscow. It also demonstrated the engagement of Vatican to keep fruitful discussions with Moscow on religious and political issues, connected with Ukraine and other crisis regions.
The meeting between Pope Francis and Russian president Vladimir Putin covered not only international problems but ecclesiastical themes too. First of all it refers to the presence in Ukraine of the so-called Uniate Church. The traditional Orthodoxy always met difficulties in countries, where the Russian presence was not dominant.
Certainly, Pope Francis made an important statement about the the respect of the Minsk agreements. The Pope put on the table the message about peace in Ukraine, presumably offering help from Vatican. The fact is that Moscow at this moment can’t fully control the pro-Russian separatists, and NATO itself doesn’t control the pro-Western front in the country. The asymetric and hybrid war in Ukraine is still in progress.
Another important issue was that of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Putin has already showed what he can do in Syria in 2013. We must recognize, that dictatorships of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Assad in Syria gave more religious freedom to Christians than now. Just a week ago Tareq Aziz died, a Christian Iraqi politician, who was number two in Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Russia can do a lot for Christian Arabes because it knows very well the Middle East and has good relationship with Iran that never broke out. Moscow can help Assad, whose fall would mean the end of Syrian Christianity. The Pope can raise his voice in support of the persecuted Christians. As Origen said, we have not only to hallow the Martyrs but we have also to punish the oppressors. Cultural and a diplomatical mediation is not enough now, and we cannot only keep praying, waiting for an UN intervention.
The problem is that Italy has to manoeuvre between United States and Russia. Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi is for a more independent Atlantism. He has criticized Obama but supports the Alliance. The White House is very nervous about the Italian policy toward Russia, because the Kremlin feels itself less isolated.
After the defeat of Napoleon the Congress of Vienna returned dignity to France in new balance of forces. We had to do the same with Russia, but after the fall of Communism the West humiliated Moscow. This was a big mistake. Now we need a new Congress of Vienna to divide the spheres of influence. And here the Vatican mediation could be very important, because the Holy See was always an expert in long term policies. When the Cold War was underway, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli worked for the effective Ostpolitik toward the Soviet Union.
Giulio Sapelli, Professor of Economic History and Director of the post-graduate course on “Economy, enterprise and humanitarian disciplines between East and West, University of Milan; SOCRATES-ERASMUS coordinator in University of Milan.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club’s, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Udo von Massenbach