Pope Francis suggests war in Ukraine was ‘perhaps in some way provoked

Ukraine: Artillery destroys Russian rocket launchers

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While the leader of the Catholic Church has denied being pro-Putin, a transcript of a conversation he had last month revealed he did not feel the situation was black and white. The Pope described Russian troops as cruel and ferocious, and praised the bravery of Ukrainian soldiers defending their country. He went on to decry Russia’s “monstrous” use of Chechen and Syrian mercenaries in the war, as well as the global arms trade.

His thoughts were revealed by the text of a conversation he had last month with editors of Jesuit media, published today in English by Vatican News.

He questioned what is happening to humanity as he argued this was the third world war in the space of a century.

Pope Francis said: “We see what is happening now in Ukraine in a certain way because it is closer to us and pricks our sensibilities more.

“But there are other countries far away – think of some parts of Africa, northern Nigeria, northern Congo – where war is ongoing and nobody cares.

“Think of Rwanda 25 years ago. Think of Myanmar and the Rohingya. The world is at war.

“A few years ago, it occurred to me to say that we are experiencing a third world war fought piecemeal. Today, for me, World War III has been declared.”

He added: “This is something that should give us pause for thought. What is happening to humanity that has had three world wars in a century?

“This is bad for humanity, a calamity. You have to think that in a century there have been three world wars, with all the arms trade behind it!”

He went on to condemn the “ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops”, but added “we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved.

“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.”

“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 added that several months prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pope had met with a head of state who expressed a concern that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia”, and this could lead to war.

Francis said at the time: “We do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.”

He went on to explicitly state he was not “pro-Putin”, saying to himself: “No, I am not. It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. I am simply opposed to reducing complexity to a distinction between good and bad.”

The conversation, which also mentions the “monstrous” use of Chechen and Syrian mercenaries, has been revealed shortly after two Britons and a Moroccan who were captured while fighting for Ukraine were sentenced to death on Thursday by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, under the charge of “mercenary activities”.

Thousands of mercenaries from the notorious Wagner Group have been deployed by Russia in the conflict in Ukraine, along-side fighters from the Russian republic of Chechnya and from war-torn Syria.

A European official said in April Russia had around 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters in the eastern Donbas – from Wagner as well as Russian proxy fighters from Syria and Libya, while an estimated 40,000 fighters from Syria are reported to have signed up.

Amnesty International have also accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine for the use of banned cluster bombs in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

The human rights group said in a report: “The repeated bombardments of residential neighbourhoods in Kharkiv are indiscriminate attacks which killed and injured hundreds of civilians, and as such constitute war crimes.”

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