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Pope again calls for negotiations, which would freeze war to Russia’s benefit

Pope Francis has reiterated his call for negotiation and peace between warring countries, specifically mentioning Ukraine and Gaza, without directly urging Russia to cease its aggression or withdraw its troops.
Pope Francis welcoming CBS journalists in Rome for an interview. April 2024. Screenshot: CBS
Pope again calls for negotiations, which would freeze war to Russia’s benefit

In an interview partially published on 24 April, CBS News asked Pope Francis, 87, if he had a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding Ukraine. In response, he said, “Please. Countries at war, all of them, stop the war. Look to negotiate. Look for peace. A negotiated peace is better than a war without end.”

Once again, the pontiff neither urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, nor called on the Kremlin to release forcibly deported Ukrainians. Any negotiated peace with Russia would likely lead to the partial or full legalization of Russia’s control over the parts of Ukraine it has occupied. Despite the widespread outrage these statements consistently provoke, Pope Francis continues to advocate for talks with Russia without directly urging it to end its war of aggression.

During his Easter Sunday Mass earlier this month, Pope Francis appealed for a ceasefire in Gaza and a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. Now, when asked by CBS if he could help negotiate peace in Gaza and Ukraine, he replied, “I can pray,” and added, “I do. I pray a lot.” Earlier into the all-out war, the pontiff said several times that the Vatican was ready to mediate between Russia and Ukraine.

The pontiff told NBC that he is in touch with a parish in Gaza every day and receives updates on the situation, but did not mention any contacts with Ukrainian Catholics, but said he noticed the devastating effects that Russia’s war had on Ukrainian children:

Those kids don’t know how to smile,” the pope told CBS. “I tell them something, but they forgot how to smile. And this is very hard when a child forgets to smile. That’s really very serious. Very serious.”

Pope controversies

In late March, the pontiff called for an “all for all” prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine in his traditional Easter address, to which Ukraine’s Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War responded that while they have been ready, Russia remained unwilling to repatriate its own people.

In an early March interview with a Swiss broadcaster, Pope Francis suggested Ukraine should consider negotiating with Russia, stating, that he believes that those who have “the courage to raise the white flag and to negotiate are stronger,” “negotiating is never a surrender,” and “it is the courage not to lead the country to suicide.” 

The statement predictably prompted strong responses, with Ukrainian Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticizing it, Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba saying, “Our flag is a yellow and blue one. We shall never raise any other flags,” and Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Vatican planning a meeting with Pope Francis to convey several “fundamental points for Ukraine.”

Pope Francis had also faced backlash for referring to “great Russia” during his online speech to participants of the X All-Russian Day of Catholic Youth in August 2023. Following sharp criticism, he admitted that his references to Russian emperors Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were inappropriate and improvised.

In late 2022, several months into Russia’s full-scale invasion, Pope Francis explained his unclear statements regarding Russia’s war, saying,

“Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state. This is very clear. Sometimes I try not to specify so as not to offend and rather condemn in general, although it is well known whom I am condemning.”

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