Pope Francis has made new remarks on the war in Ukraine, praising “brave” Ukrainians for fighting for survival but also suggesting the situation was not black and white and that the war was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”.
In the text of a conversation he had last month with the editors of a Catholic journal published on Tuesday, the pope took a new series of swipes at Russia for its actions in Ukraine, saying its troops were brutal, cruel and ferocious, and that the invasion violated a country’s right to self-determination.
Pope Frances condemned “the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops”; said “we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved”; and included the arms industry among the factors that provide incentives for war.
“It is also true that the Russians thought it would all be over in a week. But they miscalculated. They encountered a brave people, a people who are struggling to survive and who have a history of struggle,” he said in the transcript of the conversation, published by the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica.
“This is what moves us: to see such heroism. I would really like to emphasise this point, the heroism of the Ukrainian people. What is before our eyes is a situation of world war, global interests, arms sales and geopolitical appropriation, which is martyring a heroic people,” he said.
In his conversation with the Jesuit editors, Francis said that several months before Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Ukraine, the pontiff had met with a head of state who expressed concern that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia” in a way that could lead to war.
Francis then said, in his own words: “We do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”.
Asking himself rhetorically if that made him “pro-Putin”, he said: “No, I am not. It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing”.
Francis also noted Russia’s “monstrous” use of Chechen and Syrian mercenaries in Ukraine.
Separately, in a message for the Roman Catholic Church’s upcoming World Day of the Poor, Francis lamented that Ukraine had been added to a list of regional war zones.
“Yet here the situation is even more complex due to the direct intervention of a ‘superpower’ aimed at imposing its own will in violation of the principle of the self-determination of peoples,” he said.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists.
Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
Francis said he hoped to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at an inter-religious event in Kazakhstan in September. The two had been due to meet in Jerusalem this month, but that trip was cancelled because of the war.
Kirill, who is close to Putin, has given the war in Ukraine his full-throated backing.
Francis said last month that Kirill could not become “Putin’s altar boy”, prompting a protest from the Russian Orthodox Church.