Putin visits Italy, pope after G-7 snub over Ukraine

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Putin visits Italy, pope after G-7 snub over Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass of champagne after a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 10, 2016. AFP PHOTO / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AFP / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN (Photo credit should read PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA. MARCH 1, 2016. Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the 7th congress of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (CCI). Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu leave Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2015 after the Victory Day military parade. Russian President Vladimir Putin presides over a huge Victory Day parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet win over Nazi Germany, amid a Western boycott of the festivities over the Ukraine crisis. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with the leader of Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / IVAN SEKRETAREV (Photo credit should read IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - FEBRUARY 17: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks on as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kisses the hand of a member of the Russian delegation during a signing ceremony of several agreements between the two countries on February 17, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Putin is in Budapest on a one-day visit, his first visit to an EU-member country since he attended ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions in France in June, 2014. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 16: Russia President Vladimir Putin waves during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
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MILAN (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting Wednesday with Italian officials and Pope Francis as the U.S. sought to encourage the Vatican to join the West in condemning Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Putin was to speak with Premier Matteo Renzi in Milan before heading to the Vatican, fresh from his latest snub by the Group of Seven developed nations, which reaffirmed sanctions against Moscow at a summit this week.

While the pope has deplored the loss of life in Ukraine and called for all sides to respect the cease-fire, he has not publicly placed any blame on Russia in an apparent bid to not upset relations with the Orthodox Church.

The United States, NATO and European leaders have blamed Moscow for supplying rebels with manpower, training and weapons. Russia denies the claims.

On Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, said the United States "would like to see the Vatican increase its" concern about what is happening in Ukraine during the pope's meeting with Putin.

"We think they could say something more about concern of territorial integrity, those types of issues," Hackett told reporters. "It does seem that Russia is supporting the insurgents. And it does seem that there are Russian troops inside Ukraine. This is a very serious situation."

Putin's visit, which includes a visit to Russia's pavilion at the 2015 Expo World's Fair in Milan, is significant after the G-7 made clear that any lifting of sanctions against Russia depends on Moscow fully implementing the Ukraine peace accord.

The leaders of the world's industrialized democracies, who for the second year in a row disinvited Putin to their summit, made clear that sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union could be increased later if the situation called for it.

A cease-fire agreement for Ukraine has been shaky, with the heaviest fighting in months breaking out recently between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

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