Pope Francis says Ukraine war “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”

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Rome — Pope Francis has told a group of European Jesuit news editors that the war in Ukraine was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented,” and he cautioned against oversimplifying the conflict.

In an interview published Tuesday in the Jesuit publication “La Civilta’ Cattolica,” the pope said that in Russia’s war on Ukraine, “there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in an abstract sense.” 

He said that months before the war, a head of state warned him that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia,” and that Russia would not tolerate it, which could lead to war. 

The leader, who Francis did not identify, “was able to read the signs of what was taking place,” the pontiff said.

In his conversation with the Jesuits, Francis condemned the “brutality and ferocity of the Russian troops” invading Ukraine and pummelling it with artillery. He called the use of mercenaries, in particular, “monstrous.” 


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But the pope cautioned that focusing solely on Russia’s violence could prevent people from understanding “the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented. And note the interest in testing and selling weapons.”

Francis made similar remarks in May, when he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he had “no way of telling whether [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] rage has been provoked,  but I suspect it was maybe facilitated by the West’s attitude.”

In a separate address Tuesday marking the World Day of the Poor, Francis struck a different tone, saying the war in Ukraine was the “direct intervention of a ‘superpower’ aimed at imposing its own will in violation of the principle of the self determination of peoples.” 

He also implicitly blamed Putin during an April speech in the Maltese capital of Valletta, when he decried “the icy winds of war” in Europe and said, “some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts.

Francis has repeatedly condemned the war in Ukraine, calling it “abominable,” “macabre,” a “massacre” and “unacceptable armed aggression.” 


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But he has also been criticized for not explicitly naming Russia and Putin as the instigators of the conflict. 

His motivation to try to walk such a fine line is likely rooted in the Vatican’s historical stance of maintaining an open dialogue with all sides in global conflicts, so it can help mediate for peace. 

In the interview with the Jesuit journalists, Francis did underscore that he was not pro-Putin.

“I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex,” he said. “While we see the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops, we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved.”  

He also praised the bravery and humanity of the Ukrainian people. 


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“I would really like to emphasize 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.

Francis said he would like to set up a direct meeting with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Kazakhstan in September. 

Kirill has provided religious justification for the war in Ukraine, prompting Francis to warn him that he “cannot become Putin’s altar boy”.  

The two were scheduled to meet in June, but that meeting has been postponed.

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