Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Ivan Soltanovsky as the new ambassador to the Holy See on May 16, 2023. The appointment came just five days after the previous ambassador, Alexander Avdeyev, finished his mandate. Avdeyev was particularly appreciated by Pope Francis and visited him on May 11 to bid him farewell
Ivan Soltanovsky is 73 years old and originally from St. Petersburg. After studying history, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union in 1977 during the presidency of Leonid Brezhnev. He received his first assignment as Consul General of the USSR in Pakistan and India, after working for a few years in the central office in Moscow.
In 1993, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he joined the Department for Security and Disarmament Affairs, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he became deputy director after a period in Vienna as advisor to the Russian delegation at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2003 to 2009, he was Russia’s deputy representative to NATO, then deputy director and finally director of the Department for Pan-European Cooperation.
In 2015, Soltanovsky was appointed as Permanent Representative of Russia to the Council of Europe in Brussels. In 2022, President Vladimir Putin ended this diplomatic mission and brought him back to Russia.
A complex replacement
The quick replacement of ambassador Avdeyev highlights that Russia considers it important to keep an open line of communication with the Vatican. Soltanovsky’s profile as a specialist in European and security issues, and someone accustomed to multilateral contexts, is strategic for his future mission at the Vatican.
However, he also has a more technocratic pedigree than his predecessor, who was a former Minister of Culture of his country and former ambassador to France, who was able to build a relationship of trust and mutual esteem with the Pontiff. On several occasions in recent months, the Pope had publicly praised Avdeyev, describing him as “a humanist, a man fighting for equality.”
Avdeyev had also played an important diplomatic role in Rome since the outbreak of the war. On February 25, 2022, a few hours after the start of the conflict, the Pontiff decided to break protocol and visit the diplomat in his embassy on Via della Consolazione, right in front of St. Peter’s Square. Francis wanted to ask the ambassador in person to pass on to Moscow his request to end the war.
As well, Pope Francis has passed several lists of Ukrainian prisoners to the Russian ambassador so that he could send them on to Moscow to obtain their release. According to the Italian press, the Pope also gave Avdeyev a list of children abducted by the Russians during the ambassador’s goodbye visit on May 11.