While the war between Russia and Ukraine pushes forward, Pope Francis took the time to reflect on what caused the outbreak, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.
Without accusing NATO of being responsible for the Russian aggression, the pope stressed that the international organisation had “probably facilitated” the invasion. He described NATO’s actions on Russian borders as provocative “barking,” which could have made Russia’s militant reaction predictable. The pontiff denounced the extreme brutality and violence of this war, which he compared to the civil war in Rwanda in the 1990s.
In the same interview, the Pope discussed the meeting that was to have taken place between him and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The meeting was apparently cancelled by mutual agreement because it was considered “ambiguous,” explained Pope Francis. In a video conference with Patriarch Kirill on March 16th, Francis denounced the patriarch for serving him with purely political language that was clearly directed by the Kremlin. “For the first twenty minutes, with a paper in his hand, he read me all sorts of justifications for the war. I listened and told him: ‘I don’t understand any of this. We cannot use the language of politics but the language of Jesus,'” Pope Francis reported. The pontiff then urged Kirill to keep his wits about him and not become “Putin’s altar boy” (chierichetto di Putin). The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow in turn issued a derogatory assessment of Pope Francis, stating “it is deplorable that the pope has chosen such an inappropriate tone to put a reserved conversation in the public arena.”
The interview also covered questions about Pope Francis’ plans to engage Vladimir Putin. He spoke out in favour of a meeting with the Russian president, considering it a priority over a trip to Kyiv. “It’s not the proper moment to go to Kyiv,” the pope explained. A request for such a meeting had been made, unsuccessfully, through the Vatican’s diplomatic channels in mid-March. However, the offer was not accepted. After being rejected, Pope Francis appealed publically to the international community—an approach that was denounced by the Russian government, who strongly rebuked the pontiff, reminding the Vatican that “this kind of question should go through diplomatic channels.”
Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukraine conflict, Pope Francis has tried to keep a balanced position in order not to close the door on any possibility of negotiation, to the point that some have considered his attitude too timid in his condemnation of Russia. Pope Francis has decided to not participate in the name-and-shame campaign raging in the West against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Instead, on March 25th, he chose in a solemn act to consecrate both Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary—an act that was then very badly perceived by the Moscow Patriarch Kirill.