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Rome — Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis for “substantive talks” at the Vatican Thursday, and thanked the pontiff for discussions on a range of topics including Ukraine and the Catholic Church in Russia.

Francis received Putin in an hour-long audience at the Vatican Apostolic Palace. The two addressed “various questions of relevance to the life of the Catholic Church in Russia,” the Vatican said in a statement, adding that they also discussed “the ecological question and various themes relating to current international affairs, with particular reference to Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.”

The pair also expressed their satisfaction at the development of bilateral relations during the “cordial discussions,” the Vatican said.

“It was a very substantive, interesting discussion,” he told journalists present at the exchange of gifts in the private papal study.

The meeting, part of Putin’s one-day visit to Rome, comes a day before Catholic leaders from Ukraine gather at the Holy See to discuss the continuing conflict there and the fallout from the schism between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.

The Vatican said the aim is to lend support “in the delicate situation in which Ukraine finds itself.”

Last year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine formally split from the Russian Orthodox Church in a schism recognized by the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. The push for a full-fledged and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was bolstered by fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.

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