December 4, 2009.
More than 5 centuries ago, in the year 1474, Russia and the Vatican exchanged ambassadors for the first time. The diplomatic relationship was stable since 1802, but then came the October Revolution of 1917.
50 years went by until a soviet president would step foot at the Vatican. It was Nikolai Podgorny, who in 1967 had a one hour long conversation with Paul VI. Relations between the USSR and the Vatican would remained intact.
But the situation changed after the meeting at the Vatican between John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev. He was the Soviet only president to visit the Vatican.
It was December 1, 1989, just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the end of the meeting, Gorbachev pledged that the Soviet would authorize the full freedom of worship.
The next Russian president to meet with a pope was Boris Yeltsin, this time as the first president of the Russian Federation.
Yeltsin invited John Paul II to travel to Moscow. But the Pope said he was expecting an invitation from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch. That invitation never came.
Vladimir Putin visited John Paul II on two occasions. John Paul II showed Putin the Russian icon of the Virgin of Kazan. The pope later gave the icon to Russia a few months before his death.
Putin and Benedict XVI met in Rome in March 2007. They spoke in German without interpreters. Putin dominates that language because he worked in Dresden, Germany as a KGB agent from 1985 until the Berlin Wall fell.
Following that meeting, the then Russian president and the pope called for an end to extremism and intolerance because they threaten the coexistence between nations.
During all these years, diplomatic relations between Russia and the Vatican have been more political than religious. In Russia 135 million people belong to the Russian Orthodox Church while only 1 million are Catholic. That’s why, the government is commitment to pragmatism: the Kremlin does not want the tune between the Red Square in Moscow and St. Peter's Square, to blur their good relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.