Visit of Russian Patriarch Kirill seen as bid to help thaw London-Moscow relations

(REUTERS / Sergei Gunyeev / Ria Novosti / Kremlin/Files)Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill arrive for the meeting with Russian Orthodox church bishops in Moscow February 1, 2013. As troops loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin were seizing control of Crimea, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow deduced that an "internal political crisis" in Ukraine was threatening its territorial integrity. Picture taken February 1, 2013.

The head of Russia's Orthodox Church has begun a four-day visit to Britain which is viewed as a step to facilitate a thaw in the frosty relations between London and Moscow.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia is visiting the United Kingdom Oct. 15-18 seeking to harmonize relations between Moscow and London, Sputnik News, the Russian-government-backed portal reports.

His four-day visit will strengthen the dialogue between the two countries experiencing difficult times, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said.

"I believe that the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia Kirill to the United Kingdom, worship services and meetings with believers and representatives of the Church of England and the general public will help our peoples strengthen mutual trust," Hilarion told RIA Novosti in an interview.

Kirill is set to meet the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, during the trip which marks 300 years of the Russian church in the UK and he led a Sunday morning service in London, reports.

The visit comes at a time of strained relations between London and Moscow, notably over Syria and Ukraine.

The visit will mark the 300th anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles and is the first visit by a Russian patriarch to the country.

"Relations between Russia and the United Kingdom have been going through difficult times over recent years," said Hilarion.

"However, history knows periods of cooperation between the two countries, for example during World War II. The past and the present encourage us to promote a closer rapprochement between Russian and British people, which, in turn, cannot but have an impact on official contacts," he noted.

BBC Moscow Correspondent Steve Rosenberg, said that at the moment "mutual distrust" characterises the relationship between the Russia and Britain.


Last week UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he would like to see a protest against bombings of the Syrian city of Aleppo, which are being blamed on the forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces and he said those behind the attacks should face trial for war crimes .

Russian denies the claims and accused Johnson of "Russophobic hysteria".

The northern Syrian city of Aleppo has become the most high-profile battleground in the country's five-year civil war.

A UN relief convoy was attacked from the air in September - an action widely blamed on Russia, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

In an emergency debate in Britain's lower chamber of parliament Oct. 11 Johnson called for those responsible for strikes on the convoy and hospitals in Aleppo to face trial at the International Criminal Court.

Patriarch Kirill is a strong supporter of President Putin, and once described the leader's time in office as a "miracle of God," said the BBC.

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