Friday, 4 December 2009

Russia and Vatican establish diplomatic relations

Filed Under:Russia and the Vatican have agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, ending long-standing tensions, the Kremlin announced Thursday after President Dmitry Medvedev met Pope Benedict XVI.

"President Medvedev told Pope Benedict XVI that he had signed a decree concerning the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Vatican," Russian presidential spokeswoman Natalia Timakova said.

"He asked the foreign ministry to lead discussions to establish the relations and raise the level of representation to apostolic nuncio and embassy," she added.

Since 1990, the two sides have maintained representation below the rank of ambassador.

The Vatican confirmed in its own statement: "It was decided to establish full diplomatic relations." It welcomed the "cordial ties" between the two.

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been tense for centuries, and were again strained in recent years by Orthodox accusations of Catholic proselytizing in post-Soviet Russia.

During their meeting, the Russian president presented the Pope with a box decorated with an image of Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow which was pulled down after the Russian Revolution but rebuilt at the end of Soviet rule.

He also offered him 22 new volumes of an Orthodox encyclopedia. Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, had presented the Pope with the first volumes at their meeting in 2007.

"I will not be able to read all that," the pope quipped.

"We will help you," replied the Russian president.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in turn presented gifts including a lithograph of St Peter's Cathedral, and a Russian translation of his encyclical called.

The meeting lasted half an hour "and showed the highest level of dialogue between Russia and the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church," Timakova said.

Frosty ties between the two churches have thawed since the new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, patriarch Kirill, assumed his position in February.

He was previously the Russian Orthodox Church's official in foreign relations and met Pope Benedict XVI several times before he became patriarch.

"Moscow's movements are closely linked to the level of relations between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church," Vatican watcher Marco Tosatti told Agence France-Presse.

"The Russian government cannot offend the patriarch in Moscow, they cannot do anything that could displease him."

Putin was received three times at the Vatican – by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2007 and Pope John Paul II in 2000 and 2003.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met John Paul II 20 years ago on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall