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Pope to receive Putin at Vatican on July 4

Pope Francis most recently met Putin in 2015
Pope Francis most recently met Putin in 2015 POOL/AFP/File
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Vatican City (AFP)

Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin for an audience next month, the Vatican said on Thursday.

"The Holy Father will receive the president of the Russian Federation... this upcoming July 4," interim spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement.

The meeting will be the third between the two men, with Francis having received Putin most recently in 2015, when the pope urged all parties to the conflict in Ukraine to make a "sincere effort" for peace.

The meeting lasted an unusual 50 minutes. Only audiences with former US President Barack Obama and French President Emmanuel Macron have been longer.

But the pope did not go further than calling for "an important and sincere effort to achieve peace" in Ukraine, where Russia is accused of carrying out a proxy war, after annexing Crimea in 2014.

Francis first met Putin in 2013, as the Roman Catholic Church sought to improve ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Only in 2009 did the Vatican and Moscow re-establish full diplomatic ties which had been severed during Soviet times.

Relations between Russia and the Vatican have improved since the coming to power in the same year of Patriarch Kirill, who headed up the Russian Orthodox Church's diplomatic arm for years.

The Russian Orthodox Church has frequently accused the Catholic Church of proselytising in Russia, an Orthodox Christian country of 144 million.

The pope in 2016 held an historic meeting with Kirill in Cuba, the first encounter between the heads of the two largest Christian churches since Christianity split into Western and Eastern branches in the 11th Century -- an event known as "The Great Schism."

The two wings have been estranged ever since with each maintaining for centuries that they are the true inheritors of the early Christian church established by the apostles of Jesus Christ.

While relations have warmed of late between Rome and other branches of the Orthodox tradition, the Russian one, the most influential in the Eastern family, is historically the most guarded.

Putin previously met the pope's now-retired predecessor Benedict XVI as well as late pope John Paul II.

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