Ukrainian President Zelenskyy arrives in Rome to meet Pope Francis, Italian leaders

 Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy arrived in Rome on Saturday for talks with Italian officials and Pope Francis, who has said the Vatican has launched a behind-the-scenes initiative to try to end the war launched last year by Russia.

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Zelenskyy arrived at a military airfield at Rome’s Ciampino airport, state broadcaster RAI reported. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani was on hand to greet him, the ANSA news agency said.

"Today in Rome," Zelenskyy tweeted. "I'm meeting with President of Italy Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister of Italy @GiorgiaMeloni and the Pope @Pontifex. An important visit for approaching victory of Ukraine!"

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni staunchly backs military and other aid for Ukraine, and with Mattarella, who is head of state. The meeting with Mattarella at the presidential Quirinale Palace was the first official appointment of what is expected to be a visit to the Italian capital lasting several hours. Zelenskyy is believed to be heading to Berlin next.

Zelenskyy's exact schedule hadn't 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.

Meloni met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, shortly before the anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion on Feb. 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-scene peace mission but gave no details. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has confirmed such an initiative.

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The German government, meanwhile, said it was providing Ukraine with additional military aid worth more than $3 billion, including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.

The announcement Saturday came as preparations were underway in Berlin for a possible first visit to Germany by Zelenskyy since Russia invaded his country last year.

Defense 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.

While Zelenskyy's visit on Sunday has yet to be officially confirmed, it would be a sign that relations between Ukraine and Germany have improved markedly after a rocky patch.

Kyiv has long been suspicious of Germany's reliance on Russian energy and support for the Nord Stream gas pipelines circumventing Ukraine, defended by then Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Her successor, Olaf Scholz, agreed to phase out Russian energy imports after the invasion but initially hesitated to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, fearing Germany could be drawn into the conflict.

With Washington, Warsaw and London more overtly supportive of Ukraine's efforts to defend itself, Berlin got the cold diplomatic shoulder from Kyiv.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was disinvited from Ukraine last year,prompting annoyance in Germany, which pointed out that it has given considerable financial aid to Kyiv and taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees. Scholz eventually visited Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders in June.

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