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MOSCOW, June 9. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit the Vatican on June 10 and meet with Pope Francis to discuss the situation in Ukraine and in the Middle East, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Tuesday.
The sides are expected to discuss "a whole range of bilateral ties, and also the topical international issues, in particular, the situation in Ukraine with the focus on the interreligious relations and the activity of Ukraine’s Catholics," Ushakov said.
"Of course, they will talk the situation of Christians in the Middle East and the need to protect their interests," he said.
The presidential aide told reporters that the particular issues to be discussed "will depend on the course of the conversation."
Ushakov said the president and Pope Francis are not likely to discuss the possibility of the pontiff’s visit to Russia.
"I think that they will discuss possible further contacts," Ushakov said. "I don’t know whether they will discuss specifically the Pope’s visit [to Russia] because this is a matter of not only state [relations], but also of church," he told journalists, adding that this topic is the prerogative of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
Ushakov reminded that this will be the second meeting between Putin and Pope Francis. Their first meeting took place in November 2013.
"Such contacts are becoming a good tradition," a senior Vatican prelate told TASS, commenting on reports about the forthcoming meeting. He added that the pontiff "was following Russia’s policy with great attention, balanced approach and good will and would be glad to exchange views with the Russian leader."
The press office of the Holy See said that the papal audience for the Russian President in the Apostolic Palace also provided for Putin’s meeting with Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
While in Italy, Russian presidents traditionally visit Vatican. Putin met Pope John Paul II twice (on June 5, 2000, and on November 6, 2003), he met Pope Benedict XVI on March 13, 2006, and Pope Francis in November 2013. In 2009 and 2011 Dmitry Medvedev met the Pope during his time as president.
The Russian Catholic community consists of about 600,000 faithful. In 2014, the exchange of messages between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia took place for the first time in the history of the two churches. Russian Orthodox and Catholic bishops exchange visits on a regular basis.
According to Ushakov, "joint cultural projects are being implemented", for example, an art exhibition titled "Pictures of Biblical Scenes from Museums of Russia and Vatican" is being prepared. Its main expositions in the museums of Vatican, Moscow and St.Petersburg for 2016-2017 have been defined.