By John L. Allen Jr.
Associate editor June 9, 2015
Judging solely on the basis of personality, Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin may seem an odd geopolitical couple. Francis is a man of compassion and peace, while Putin is quite possibly the single world leader you most wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley.
Yet when Francis and Putin meet on Wednesday in the Vatican, it will bring together two figures who’ve forged an improbably strong partnership. What remains to be seen is whether the potential fly in the ointment between Rome and Moscow ruins the party: Ukraine.
First, however, consider the areas where Francis and Putin have managed to do business.
In September 2013, the drums of war were beating as the United States and other major Western powers geared up to deploy military force against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, based on claims that Assad had used sarin gas against his own people.
Given Russia’s role as a patron of Syria, Putin was strongly opposed. Yet his position arguably was less consequential than that of Pope Francis, who convened a special day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and denounced an expansion of the conflict on multiple occasions.