Pope usurps Russian ‘cruelty’ in Ukraine, says invasion violates nation’s rights

Pope Francis addresses the people as he arrives for the weekly general audience at the Vatican, June 8, 2022. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiaban

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  • Pope praises Ukrainians for ‘heroic’ resistance
  • He says war should not be viewed from a black and white perspective
  • Reflect on meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill in September

ROME (Reuters) – Pope Francis has dealt a new series of heavy blows to Russia over its actions in Ukraine, saying its forces were brutal, ruthless and fierce and that the invasion violated a country’s right to self-determination.

In the transcript of a conversation he had last month with Jesuit media editors and published on Tuesday, he praised “courageous” Ukrainians for fighting to survive, but also said that the situation was not black and white and that the war was “perhaps somehow a provocation.”

While denouncing “the ferocity and brutality of the Russian forces, we must not forget the real problems if we are to solve them,” Francis said, including the arms industry among the factors that provide incentives for war.

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In a text, he said, “It is also true that the Russians believed that everything would be over in a week. But they miscalculated. They faced a brave people, a people struggling for survival with a history of struggle.” The conversation published by the Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica.

“This is what moves us: to see such heroism. I would really like to stress this point, the heroism of the Ukrainian people. What is before our eyes is the state of world war, global interests, arms sales, geopolitical takeover, which is the martyrdom of a heroic people.”

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Separately, in a message on the occasion of the upcoming World Day of the Poor of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis lamented the addition of Ukraine to the list of regional wars.

“But the situation here is more complicated because of the direct intervention” of a “superpower” with the aim of imposing its will in violation of the principle of self-determination of peoples, he said.

“Not Pro Putin”

In a conversation with Jesuit editors, Francis said that several months before President Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Ukraine, the Pope met a head of state who expressed concern that NATO was “barking at Russia’s doors” in a way that could lead to war.

Then Francis said in his own words, “We don’t see the full drama unfolding behind this war, which in some way may have been either provocative or not been prevented.”

Asking himself rhetorically if that made him “pro-Putin,” he said, “No, I’m not. It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing.”

Francis also noted Russia’s “brutal” use of Chechen and Syrian mercenaries in Ukraine.

Russia describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say fascist allegations are baseless and the war is an unjustified act of aggression.

Francis said he hopes to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at an interfaith event in Kazakhstan in September. The two had been due to meet in Jerusalem in June, but that trip was canceled due to the war.

Kirill, who is close to Putin, gave his full support to the war in Ukraine. Francis said last month that Kirill could not become “Putin’s altar boy,” sparking outcry from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Additional reporting by Francesca Pescionieri. Editing by Gareth Jones

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