Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in Rome ahead of talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican, has received assurances from Italian leaders of continued military and other aid as his country fights to liberate itself from Russia’s military invasion launched last year.
Francis recently said that the Vatican has launched a behind-the-scenes initiative to try to end the war launched last year by Russia.
In a tweet, sent shortly after his arrival in the Italian capital late on Saturday morning, Mr Zelensky cited his schedule of meetings with Francis, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni.
“An important visit for approaching victory of Ukraine!” Mr Zelensky tweeted.
When Mr Zelensky arrived at a military airfield at Rome’s Ciampino airport, Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani was on hand to greet him.
Mr Tajani told reporters that Italy will continue to support Ukraine “360 degrees” and press for a just peace, one that safeguards Ukraine’s independence.
Ms Meloni staunchly backs military and other aid for Ukraine.
But while her far-right Brothers of Italy party fiercely champions the principle of national sovereignty, Ms Meloni has had to contend with leaders of two coalition partners who have openly professed for years their admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi, a former premier, has boasted of his friendship with Mr Putin, while another government ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, has questioned the value of economic sanctions against Russia.
“We are fully at your side,” Mr Mattarella told Mr Zelensky as he welcomed him.
Later, after their meeting, presidential palace sources said Mr Mattarella assured his guest that Italy would continue supporting Ukraine militarily and financially, as well as with reconstruction and humanitarian aid, in both the short and long term.
Since the war began, Italy has furnished about one billion euros (£875 million) in military and financial aid, as well as humanitarian assistance.
At his next stop, the premier’s office, Ms Meloni and Mr Zelensky embraced in the palace courtyard, before beginning their closed-door talks.
His exact schedule had not been publicly announced because of security concerns, and the Vatican only confirmed a papal meeting shortly before the Ukrainian president’s plane touched down.
Italian state radio reported that as part of protective measures, a no-fly zone was ordered for Rome skies and police sharpshooters were strategically placed on high buildings.
Ms Meloni met with Mr Zelensky in Kyiv, shortly before the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24 2022.
Francis, who is eager for peace, last met with the Ukrainian leader in 2020.
The pontiff makes frequent impassioned pleas on behalf of Ukraine’s “martyred” people, in his words.
At the end of April, flying back to Rome from a trip to Hungary, Francis told reporters on the plane that the Vatican was involved in a behind-the-scenes peace mission but gave no details.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine has confirmed such an initiative.
Last month, Ukraine’s prime minister met with Francis at the Vatican and said he asked the pontiff to help Ukraine get back children illegally taken to Russia during the invasion.
The German government, meanwhile, said it was providing Ukraine with additional military aid worth more than 2.7 billion euros (£2.3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
The announcement on Saturday came as preparations were under way in Berlin for a possible first visit to Germany by Mr Zelensky since Russia invaded his country last year.
Defence minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin wants to show with the latest package of arms “that Germany is serious in its support” for Ukraine.
“Germany will provide all the help it can, as long as it takes,” he said.