Putin and the Pope: The Meeting Was Brief…

December 3, 2013

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis. The Russian media saw the event as a public relations victory, and played up the fact that the Pope would meet Putin for an entire hour. The meeting was shorter than expected, and mainly because Putin was caught up in protests. Ekho Moskvy untangles the Russian media coverage. – Ed.

The one-on-one meeting of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin with Pope Francis continued twice as long as was planned. Dmitry Peskov, presidential press secretary, made reference to this… After 35 minutes of discussion, Putin introduced the pontiff to members of the delegation accompanying him.

Peskov was in his repertoire. Only the day before, absolutely all the official sources had reported that the meeting would last an hour. Even after Putin’s plane was late landing in Rome, Channel One and Voice of Russia continued to claim that the meeting with the Pope “would last about an hour” (see the proof here and here).

All the Italian media reported that Putin was late to the meeting with the Pope by 50 minutes or an hour. The Russian media acknowledged this, too. The Mayak radio station broadcast the following: “As our correspondent has noted, the Russian president arrived at the Vatican with his traditional tardiness: Francis was waiting for the head of the Russian state for about 50 minutes (scan). And he was late not because the presidential plane landed a half hour later (as reported here) but for the reason that Putin went from the airport not straight to the Vatican, but was first held up at his hotel, The St. Regis Rome. And he did not leave the hotel until the police dispersed a demonstration with posters saying “Free Pussy Riot!”

In fact, on the way to the Pope, Putin still had a chance to see a similar banner at the Basilica of St. Lawrence; besides “Free Pussy Riot!” some girls had also written “We spit on you, Putin”. No doubt he wished he could give them a double, surely?

In short, Putin was late. As a result, the Pope allotted him not an hour, but half an hour. Andrei Kolesnikov, the correspondent for Kommersant, waited by the doors of the papal library, and was even amazed: “Well, perhaps they spoke for half an hour. And hardly managed to say anything to each other.”

And after that, Peskov pops out and reports that the meeting lasted twice as long as planned. As if the Pope just couldn’t part with such a pleasant and intelligent interlocutor.

I wonder why Peskov, when describing the joyous reception by the Pope, does not indicate the circumstance which was emphasized at the Vatican: this meeting took place “at the urgent request of the Russian government”?




Well, as a curiosity: people raced to my comments to point out a link to Izvestiya, where they recalled a headline about Putin’s visit to the Pope: “President Not Late for a Second.” Yes, there really was that one time in Putin’s life when he wasn’t late. It was exactly 10 years ago, in November 2003 [when Putin visited John Paul II]. But since then, not only has that Pope died; even his successor has already gone to his reward.