Vladimir Putin won praise from Italian Premier Matteo Renzi as he sought the Russian president's help in ending the conflict in Libya that has fuelled the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
Mr Renzi greeted Mr Putin as Russia's "dear" president and didn't voice any criticism against the country's actions in Ukraine, saying simply that they both agreed there must be full implementation of the Minsk peace accord.
They met after a tour of Russia's pavilion at Milan's Expo, a few hours before the Russian leader was due to fly to Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis.
The US ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, said the his country would like to see the Vatican increase its concern about what is happening in Ukraine during the pope's meeting with Mr Putin.
"We think they could say something more about concern of territorial integrity, those types of issues," Mr 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."
At a brief Russian-Italian news conference in Milan, Mr Putin stressed the price Italian businesses are paying for the economic sanctions lodged by the European Union against Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine during the conflict.
Mr Putin noted how several infrastructure projects, won in bidding by Italian companies, were stalled because of sanctions against some Russian financial institutions. Likewise, sanctions forced the cancellation of some contracts in the military sphere, costing 1 billion euro in earnings for Italian companies, he said.
The leaders of the world's industrialised democracies refused to let Mr Putin join the G7 summit for a second year in a row. They said sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Moscow fully implements its part of the Ukraine peace accord, and could be increased if needed.
Russia accuses Ukraine of failing to launch political dialogue with the rebellious east and of keeping its economic blockade of areas controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Kiev, the United States, Nato and European leaders have blamed Moscow for supplying rebels with manpower, training and weapons. Russia denies the claims.
Both Mr Putin and Mr Renzi spoke confidently of moving forward after the eventual full implementation of the Minsk peace accords.
Mr Renzi praised Russia for being "in the front row in facing the global threats we are all facing".
Citing Russia's role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, he said Italy "needs Russia's help on the Libyan question".
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 Vatican relations with the Orthodox Church and in hopes of engaging Russia's help to confront the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Mr Hackett noted that Putin had spoken about the plight of Christians and that that was clearly an area of concern for the Vatican.
"I'd like to see if he's got a proposal," he said of Mr Putin.
He said Francis has clearly been briefed about the situation in Ukraine. "But how he determines it best to deal with the issues is something beyond my pay grade."