The conflict in Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East were central to the discussions between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Vatican this evening.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Pope called for a "sincere and great effort to achieve peace" in Ukraine.

The statement went on to say that the two leaders spoke of the "urgency to pursue peace" in the Middle East, ensuring "necessary living conditions" for religious minorities, particularly Christians, in the region.

The Russian President arrived at the Vatican soon after 6pm and left at 7.30pm. As in 2013, he arrived late, this time by about an hour, but the meeting with the Holy Father was nevertheless a relatively long one, lasting 50 minutes. 

Here below is Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi's statement on the meeting issued this evening:

Late this afternoon, Wednesday June 10, 2015, the President of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin, was received in audience by the Holy Father, Pope Francis. The private meeting in the Library of the Apostolic Palace, began around 18:15 (6:15 p.m.) and lasted close to 50 minutes. Following the meeting there was an exchange of gifts. President Putin gave the Pope a representation in embroidery of the famous Church of Jesus the Savior, while the Pope gave the President the medallion by the artist Guido Veroi depicting the angel of peace that is an invitation to build a world of solidarity and peace founded on justice, as well as a copy of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

In the context of the current world situation, the conversation mainly focused on the conflict in the Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East. Regarding the situation in the Ukraine, the Holy Father said that we must engage in a sincere and great effort to achieve peace and emphasized the importance of rebuilding a climate of dialogue and the need for all concerned parties to implement the agreements of Minsk. Another topic was the essential commitment required by all parties to address the serious humanitarian situation and allow wider access to humanitarian workers in the region.

As for the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, in the lands of Syria and Iraq, the meeting confirmed what has already been shared: the urgency to pursue peace with the concrete interest of the international community, while ensuring at the same time the necessary conditions for the life of all the parts of society, including religious minorities, and particularly Christians.

At the same time the meeting was taking place with President Vladimir Putin and the Pope, another meeting took place between Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, and His Excellency Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.  During that meeting, the same topics were addressed, with a focus on the conflict in the Ukraine and the alarming situation in the Middle East.