Yesterday (Monday, March 12, 2007), Vladimir Putin left Russia on his first trip to Europe since his critic-acclaimed speech in Munich. This time, the highlight of the trip will be Putin's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, which will be conducted in German. Putin will share his conservative social and family values with the Pope. However, many experts believe that Putin will not extend the Pontiff an invitation to Russia. After practicing his fluent German, the Russian President will meet for the first time with the 81-year old Italian President Georgo Napolitano, and have dinner with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Then Vladimir Putin will pay a short visit to Greece.
Putin does not want to invite the Pope to Russia because according to the Russian President "it's the church's business," not his. It is the Russian Orthodox Church which should be extending an invitation to a spiritual, rather than a political, leader. Nonetheless, for Russian leaders meeting the Pope has become a fairly routine practice -- both Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev met with the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to Professor Boris Falikov at the Russian State University of Humanitarian Studies, a positive dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches is something we may witness very soon, as both confessions share common values and are concerned about growing secularism in the world.
There will be a group of Russian businessmen and officials accompanying President Putin. The Russian aircraft manufacturer, Civil Jets Sukhoi, will sign an agreement with Alenia, a daughter company of Finmeccanica, to produce 1,800 Sukhoi Superjet-100s (regional passenger jets). Aleksei Chernyshev, Governor of Orenburg Oblast, will sign a three-party agreement between his region, the Italian company Merloni, and VneshEconomBank to create a large holding company based in the Russian town of Orsk.
Sukhoi Superjet 100
Putin's dinner with the Italian Prime Minister will be hosted in Bari. Coincidently (or maybe not), Bari is also the site of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral which was founded by the Russian Knyagina (Duchess) Elizaveta Fyodorovna and Czar Nicholas II in 1913. Twenty-four years later, the local Russian community sold the cathedral and its properties to the local government. In 1998 part of the Orthodox complex was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. No one knows if Putin plans to bring up this issue, but most likely he will.
After his visit to Italy, Putin will visit Greece. Athens will host a summit between Russia, Greece, and Bulgaria regarding the construction and exploitation of the proposed Burgas-Aleksandrupolis oil pipeline. This project was first discussed between the three countries in September 2006, but there was no final decision on the matter. In February, Putin declared that Moscow supports this project, which means that the pipeline will be built.
This trip is yet another indicator that both the Russian government and its citizens are joining the international community as a competitive force. Meanwhile, many American media outlets are predicting the end of the world for both. In the near future, Russia Blog will highlight statistics showing Russia's economic growth during Putin's presidency. The ten-fold expansion of the country's GDP and other economic factors are often completely ignored or downplayed by Western media outlets. These positive financial trends offer important insights into the real Russian mentality and may reassure those who are troubled by the punditocracy's continuing screeds predicting the eminent collapse of the Russian Federation.