Pope Benedict XVI and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spent more than half an hour speaking privately during what the Pope termed “a very important meeting”.
The Pope welcomed the president to the Vatican, telling him that their meeting was significant.
Mr Medvedev and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, later met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state.
In the meetings, the Vatican said, “the broad-ranging collaboration between the Holy See and the Russian Federation was recognised, both in the promotion of specifically human and Christian values, and in the cultural and social field”.
The talks also included a discussion about “the positive contribution interreligious dialogue can make to society”, the Vatican said.
“Finally,” the Vatican statement said, “attention turned to the international situation, with particular reference to the Middle East.”
The president gave the Pope two volumes of letters in Russian written by former President Boris Yeltsin – including letters he wrote to Pope John Paul II – a Russian encyclopedia on the Orthodox Church and a painting of Moscow, which includes a view of the Kremlin.
Looking at the three books, Pope Benedict told the president: “I should learn Russian.”
Pointing to the Kremlin, the Pope asked Mr Medvedev, “You live here?” The president responded that the Kremlin is where his office is.
The Pope gave Mr Medvedev a mosaic of the Vatican.