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Pope Francis: NATO ‘barking at Russia’s door’ may have caused conflict, but condemns invasion

Pope Francis has said that NATO “barking” at Russia’s door may have caused Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, adding that he has offered to meet the Russian president in Moscow.

Giving a lengthy interview to Italian newspaper Corriele della Sera, the Pope implied that the transatlantic military alliance was ‘barking at Russia’s door’. This, he said, caused the Kremlin to “react badly and unleash the conflict.”

Reflecting on the conflict, he said that while he might not go as far as saying NATO’s presence in nearby countries “provoked” Moscow, it “perhaps facilitated” the invasion. Pope Francis also denounced the “brutality” of the war, comparing it to Rwanda’s civil war in the 1990s, which resulted in a genocide of the Tutsi minority. 

“You cannot think that a free state can make war on another free state,” the Pope said. 

“In Ukraine, it seems that it was others who created the conflict. I am pessimistic but we must do everything possible to stop the war,” he added.

Pope Francis then said that during a state visit to Rome by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, he was told “the Russians have a plan, that everything will end on May 9” without giving any further explanation. May 9th is the day Russia celebrates its liberation and the end of World War II.

Since mid-March, the Holy See has been requesting a meeting between the pope and Putin in Moscow, Pope Francis said. 

“Of course, we needed the leader of the Kremlin to allocate a window of time. We haven’t yet had any response, and we are still trying, even if I fear that Putin can’t and doesn’t want to have this meeting at this time,” he said.

Pope Francis ruled out going to Kyiv for the time being in the interview, stating:

“I’m not going to Kyiv for now. I feel I shouldn’t go. First I have to go to Moscow, first I have to meet Putin.”

The pope said he had cancelled a meeting with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a prominent backer of Putin who has justified the war, as they both thought it would look “ambiguous” — but pope Francis said in a phone call he warned Kirill not to “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy.”

Dialogue with the Orthodox Church, which separated from the Catholic Church in 1054, is a prime concern of Francis’s pontificate.

But since the Russia and Ukraine conflict began on 24 February, the pope’s recurrent calls for peace have been in sharp contrast to Kirill’s defence of Putin’s fight against Russia’s “external and internal enemies”.

On whether it is right to supply arms to the Ukrainians, the Pope answered: “I don’t know how to answer—I’m too far away—the question of whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians.

“The clear thing is that weapons are being tested there. The Russians now know that tanks are of little use and are thinking of other things. This is why wars are waged: to test the weapons we have produced. Few people are fighting this trade, but more should be done.”

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