ROME (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Rome on Saturday for talks with Italian officials and Pope Francis. Pope Francis said the Vatican had launched a behind-the-scenes initiative to try to end the war started by Russia last year.
The state broadcaster RAI reported that Selenskyj had arrived at a military airfield at Rome Ciampino Airport. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani was there to greet him, the ANSA news agency said.
“Today in Rome,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Italian Prime Minister @GiorgiaMeloni and Pope @Pontifex. An important visit in view of the upcoming victory of Ukraine! ”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni strongly supports military and other aid to Ukraine and Mattarella, who is head of state. The meeting with Mattarella in the President’s Quirinal Palace was the first official appointment for a visit to the Italian capital, which is expected to last several hours. It is assumed that Zelenskyj will travel to Berlin next.
Zelenskyi’s exact timetable has not been made public for security reasons, and the Vatican only confirmed a papal meeting just before the Ukrainian president’s plane landed.
Italian state radio reported that as part of the protective measures, a no-fly zone had been imposed on the skies over Rome and police snipers were strategically placed on tall buildings.
Meloni met with Zelenskyy in Kiev, just before the anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.
Francis, who seeks peace, last met with the Ukrainian leader in 2020.
The Pope, in his words, keeps making passionate appeals to the “martyred” people of Ukraine.
When Francis flew back to Rome from a trip to Hungary in late April, he told reporters on the plane that the Vatican was involved in a behind-the-scenes peacekeeping mission, but gave no details. Neither Russia nor Ukraine have confirmed such an initiative.
The German government, meanwhile, said it is providing Ukraine with more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) in additional military aid, including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
The announcement came on Saturday as preparations were underway in Berlin for a possible Zelenskyy’s first visit to Germany since Russia invaded his country last year.
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin wanted to use the latest arms package to show “that Germany is serious about supporting Ukraine”.
“Germany will provide all the help it can for as long as it is necessary,” he said.
Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.