Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Pope Francis and Italy’s prime minister on Saturday as part of a diplomatic tour also involving Germany, as Berlin unveiled a huge new weapons package ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“An important visit for (the) approaching victory of Ukraine!” Zelensky tweeted as he arrived in Rome, on his first visit to EU and NATO member Italy since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Zelensky was due to travel on Sunday to Berlin, a German government source said, where the defence ministry earlier Saturday announced a new weapons package worth 2.7 billion euros ($2.95 billion) for Ukraine.
There was a heavy security presence in Rome for Zelensky’s visit, which began with a formal welcome by President Sergio Mattarella, followed by a 70-minute face-to-face with Meloni.
In a joint press conference, Zelensky thanked Meloni “for helping to save lives” while detailing what he called fresh aggressions by Russia.
Despite a history of warm ties with Moscow, including within Meloni’s hard-right coalition government, Italy has been a strong supporter of Kyiv, sending weapons and aid and backing sanctions against Russia.
“I have not come to complain, I have come to talk about our cooperation and to thank you once again for helping us, for the sake of our country, because we want peace,” he said.
Meloni, who visited Zelensky in Kyiv in February, added: “I am convinced that Ukraine will win and be reborn stronger, more proud and more prosperous than before.”
Zelensky then headed straight to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis, which he described as a “great honour”, according to footage released by the Holy See.
The 86-year-old pontiff has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine and prays for the victims of the war almost every week, although his offers to mediate have yet to yield any public results.