He may have kept the Pope waiting over an hour for their meeting, but Vladimir Putin still found time at the end of a long day in Italy to meet up with his old friend Silvio Berlusconi.
The pair greeted one another with a friendly embrace late last night at Rome’s Fiumicino airport ahead of Mr Putin’s departure for Moscow.
The Italian prime minister gave Mr Putin two large bottles of unspecified content in the encounter at Rome’s main airport, where the Russian was to board a jet to return to Moscow, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Mr Berlusconi also pledged that his Forza Italia party would introduce a parliamentary motion calling for Italy to lift sanctions against Russia, according to media reports.
Mr Putin had spent the morning in Milan touring the Russian pavilion at the world’s fair and meeting with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi.
Mr Putin and Mr Berlusconi are long-standing friends. Last October, Mr Putin paid a late-night visit to Mr Berlusoni’s Milan home despite being due at early morning crisis talks over Ukraine with European leaders just hours later.
Mr Berlusconi laid on a dinner of fresh tagliolini flavoured with white truffles for Mr Putin, and the pair also exchanged gifts – Mr Putin gave the Italian billionaire a painting of a traditional Russian hunting scene, in return receiving a sculpture from Mr Berlusconi.
The Italian media tycoon has often professed his admiration for the Russian leader and has visited him in Russia.
On one such trip last year, the pair memorably appeared in matching, outsized fur hats of the sort worn by Russians during the winter.
The respect is mutual. Last December Mr Putin visited Rome and the Vatican and was photographed tossing a ball to Dudu, the white poodle owned by Mr Berlusconi’s fiancée, Francesca Pascale, who is less than half his age.
The close ties between the two men are founded on Mr Berlusconi’s admiration of “Putin’s macho, decisive and authoritarian governing style,” the then US ambassador to Rome, Ronald Spogli, wrote in Jan 2009.
The Russian president also defended his friend when Mr Berlusconi becoming mired in the sordid “bunga bunga” sex scandal at his mansion near Milan, saying that had the Italian tycoon been gay his private life would not have ended up in the courts.
“Berlusconi is being tried because he lives with women,” said the Russian president. “If he was homosexual, no one would have lifted a finger against him.”