Pope Francis has infuriated Moscow with his statements in his latest interview, where he has clearly condemned Russia as the aggressor state in the war in Ukraine and has assured that "generally the cruelest are perhaps the peoples that are from Russia, but not they are from the Russian tradition”, giving an example to the Chechens and Buryats as the biggest criminals in the conflict.
“Certainly the one who invades is the Russian state. That is very clear. Sometimes I try not to specify so as not to offend and rather to condemn in general, although it is well known who I am condemning. It is not necessary to put the first and last name ”, the Pontiff assured in statements to the Jesuit magazine America Magazine, asked about his apparent resistance to directly criticizing Russia.
“Why didn't you name Putin? Because it was not necessary, it was already known. But sometimes people grab a little detail and... Everyone knows what my position is, with Putin or without Putin, without naming him, ”he later assured.
These words have not gone down well in Moscow, especially those referring to the Chechens and Buryats, belonging to eastern Siberia and among the most recruited by the Russian Army. According to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Francis' comments not only demonstrate his "Russophobia" but also a "shocking perversion of the truth."
"This is no longer Russophobia, but a perversion. Remember that in the 1990s and early 2000s they told us exactly the opposite: that they are Russians, Slavs who were torturing the peoples of the Caucasus, and now we are told that they are the peoples of the Caucasus who are torturing the Russians," he denounced, according to the TASS news agency. “We are one family with Buryats, Chechens and other representatives of our multinational and multi-denominational country,” Zakharova later wrote on Telegram.
The Jesuit pope was criticized early in the invasion for not openly condemning Putin or explicitly referring to Russia as the aggressor country, in a difficult exercise of Vatican diplomacy aimed at keeping the bridges open for dialogue. In the interview, Francis talks about his diplomatic efforts, stressing that on the second day of the war he went to the Russian embassy, "an unusual gesture," so that he would tell Putin that he was willing to travel in exchange for leaving him "a small window to negotiate”.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov – the Russian Foreign Minister – answered me, with great height, a nice letter, where I understood that for the moment it was not necessary. With President Zelensky I spoke on the phone three times. And my job in general is to receive lists of prisoners, be they civilian prisoners or military prisoners, and send them to the Russian government. And the response was always very positive. I also thought about traveling, but I made the decision: if I travel, I go to Moscow and kyiv, both, not to one place. And I never gave the impression that I was covering up the aggression”, the Pope recounted.
As he did last week, Francis once again mentioned the anniversary of the Holodomor genocide, the famine ordered by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that caused the death of 3.8 million Ukrainians in the 1930s, as "an antecedent history of the struggle. “The position of the Holy See is to seek peace – he continued – and seek an understanding. And the diplomacy of the Holy See is moving in that direction and of course it is always ready for mediation”.