Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Signals Support for Closer Ties With Vatican

President Vladimir Putin on Monday spoke in favor of closer ties between Moscow and the Vatican in an unusually warm greeting to Pope Benedict XVI on his 80th birthday.

Putin, the first Kremlin leader since the 1917 Revolution to publicly profess his faith, has spoken in favor of ending a long-running feud between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, to which he belongs.

There is speculation that the new warmth could signal that a meeting is possible between the pontiff and Patriarch Alexy II.

Putin met the pope last month for the first time since the German-born pontiff took office two years ago, and on Monday sent him a congratulatory letter and an icon titled "1,000 years of Russia's Baptism" as a birthday present, the Kremlin press office said.

"I warmly remember our recent meeting in the Vatican," Putin's letter said. "It has confirmed that Russia and the Holy See have similar views on a wide range of international issue and modern problems faced by the mankind today."

The Russian Orthodox Church accuses Catholics of trying to win converts in Russia and Ukraine, which it sees as its traditional sphere of influence.

Several attempts to arrange a personal meeting between Patriarch Alexy II and Pope Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, failed. Alexy has said such a meeting could only take place if the Vatican reviews its policy in Russia and Ukraine.

Putin has said he would not mediate in the row. But analysts say a meeting between the pope and patriarch could be a big international success for the Kremlin leader, who is preparing to step down next year after eight years in office.