Pope Francis has once again stirred controversy with comments relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this time by appearing to suggest that the cruelest soldiers fighting for the Kremlin are Muslims and Buddhists.
In an interview with America, a Jesuit magazine, published Nov. 28, 2022, he said: “When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in.
“Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats and so on. Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state. This is very clear.”
The Russian tradition the Pope speaks of is Christian, specifically Russian Orthodox.
Russian forces have been accused of committing thousands of war crimes during their invasion of Ukraine, the scope of which suggests they are not limited to certain groups within the country’s armed forces.
There is no exact data on the number of Chechen militants fighting for Russia, however Ukrainian intelligence believe that there are more than 1200 servicemen who are often mockingly referred to as “Tik-Tok warriors” due to their habit of posting videos of them posing with guns rather than actually fighting.
The Pope’s comments caused outrage in Moscow with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, saying: “This is no longer Russophobia, it’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name.”
Since Russia’s reinvasion of Ukraine in February, Pope Francis has gained a reputation for his controversial comments though, until now, it was usually Ukrainians that found them offensive.
During the Way of the Cross procession through Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday, the Vatican decided it would be a good idea to have both a Ukrainian and a Russian woman hold the cross.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said the gesture was “inappropriate and ambiguous, and does not take into account the context of Russian military aggression against Ukraine.”
In May of this year, Pope Francis said that NATO “barking” at Russia’s door “perhaps facilitated” the decision to invade.
The line echoed Kremlin propaganda that it was “provoked” into invading Ukraine by NATO’s actions but since then, Putin himself acknowledged a month later it was an imperial war to “return” land he sees as Russian.
Despite Putin’s admission, just a few days later Pope Francis said the invasion was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.”
He added: “Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro-Putin! No, I am not.
“It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. 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.”
‘That poor girl’
In August, a car bomb killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist who had repeatedly called for the destruction of Ukraine.
Referring to her death, the Pope described her as an innocent victim of war and “that poor girl thrown in the air by a bomb under the seat of a car in Moscow.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican said the Pope’s words were “disappointing.”
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