Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has issued a decree in Moscow on the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Holy See following a meeting at the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.
In the decree, posted on the official Kremlin Web site, www.kremlin.ru , Medvedev said the Russian Foreign Ministry should hold talks on "establishing diplomatic relations at the level of a Russian Federation Embassy in the Vatican and Apostolic Nunciature in Russia, transforming the Russian Consulate at the Vatican into an Embassy".
Since 1990 the Russia and the Vatican have exchanged diplomatic representatives but without full relations, the Catholic News Service reported from Rome.
The 3 December meeting between Medvedev and Pope Benedict came almost 20 years to the day after a historic meeting at the Vatican on 1 December 1989 between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II. This meeting was seen as breaking the ice following decades of suspicion and intrigue between the then officially atheist, communist Soviet Union and the Holy See.
Medvedev was in Italy for the third time in 2009 and met with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on political and energy issues. It was his first meeting with Pope Benedict. Former president Vladimir Putin met with Benedict in 2007 and twice with Pope John Paul II.
"During the cordial discussions, pleasure was expressed on both sides at the cordial relations that currently exist between them, and it was agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation," stated a Vatican communiqué after the meeting, which lasted 30 minutes.
The communiqué said that Medvedev and Benedict discussed issues of security and peace, as well as "cultural and social questions of mutual interest, such as the value of the family and the contribution believers make to life in Russia".
Gorbachev and Pope John Paul at their meeting in 1989 had agreed in principle to establish diplomatic ties.
Aleksei Yudin, a member of the editorial board of the Russian Catholic Encyclopedia, who writes on Russian Orthodox-Catholic relations, told Ecumenical News International on 4 December that the dates of the two meetings 20 years apart are a coincidence, but nevertheless deeply symbolic.
Tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican over allegations of Catholic proselytism by seeking converts from among Orthodox believers in Russia and Ukraine have given way to greater focus on common ground, on ecclesiastic and political levels.
"In this light is very important that recently the diplomatic representatives both of the Russian foreign ministry and the Vatican structures have … underscored that there exists a certain harmony, closeness of views, in the position of Russia and the Holy See on a whole number of international issues," said Yudin.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]