The announcement concludes a long process that began with Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit on 1 December 1989 to Pope John Paul II. On that historic occasion, the two leaders decided to start relations between the Holy See and what was then the Soviet Union, with the appointment of a representative of the president to the Holy See. However, they were not actual diplomatic relations. Today’s announcement was certainly helped by better relations between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate.
Tonight’s news comes as no surprise and was partly anticipated in July. On the Kremlin’s website, the Russian president was quoted as saying, “So I can only say that we have relations with the Vatican, there are representative missions from both sides, and we are discussing whether to bring this relationship to a higher level that is whether to change our relationship to one that is characterized by embassy and diplomatic relations. And it seems to me that this would be perfectly normal.”
In a statement about today’s meeting, the Vatican Information Service said that both sides expressed their satisfaction for their cordial relations and agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation.
“After an exchange of opinions on the international economic and political situation, that also referred to the Encyclical ‘Caritas in Veritate’, the two leaders discussed the current challenges to security and peace. The Pope also gave the president a copy of the Russian edition of the Encyclical. The two leaders then talked about cultural and social issues of common interest like the family and the contributions of believers to Russian life.”
Dmitri Medvedev is the third Russian president (fifth if the USSR is counted) to visit the Vatican. The first (Soviet) president was Nikolai Podgorny who, on 30 January 1967, held a 70-minute talk with Pope Paul VI on peace and the Vietnam War.
More than 20 years later after the fall of the Berlin Wall, another Soviet head of state, Mikhail Gorbachov, walked up the stairs to the pontifical apartments, where he was received in audience by John Paul II. In 1985 then Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had already visited the Vatican where he spoke with John Paul II for more than two hours. Nothing is known about what was discussed in that meeting, which occurred at a crucial moment in the history of Poland, after the banning of the independent Solidarity trade union.
Another president, the first for the Russian federation, followed in 1998 when Boris Yeltsin visited the Vatican. His successor, Vladimir Putin, came in 2000 and 2003, and once more in 2007 when he met Benedict XVI.