Ukraine hits back at Pope Francis over 'white flag' remark urging peace talks with Russia

Trending 1 month ago

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine and its friends person expressed mounting fury astatine Pope Francis’ proposal that it should person nan “courage” to discuss an extremity to the warfare pinch Russia.

Kyiv’s ambassador to nan Vatican told NBC News connected Monday that his state could not judge nan pontiff’s logic — a hint of nan aggravated backlash drawn by nan comments, which are not nan first by nan pope to elicit anger from Kyiv, astatine a precarious infinitesimal for Ukraine connected nan battlefield and successful nan conflict complete nationalist opinion.

“When you spot that you are defeated and that things are not going well, you person to person nan courageousness to negotiate,” Francis said in an interview pinch Swiss broadcaster RSI, which was recorded past period but partially aired connected Saturday. He urged Ukraine to person what he called “the courageousness of nan achromatic flag.”

The consequence by outraged Ukrainians was immediate.

“Our emblem is simply a yellowish and bluish one. This is nan emblem by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall ne'er raise immoderate different flags,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote Sunday successful a station connected X.

Kuleba besides called retired nan Vatican for its “strategy” successful nan first half of nan 20th century, an evident reference to accusations that nan Catholic Church grounded to enactment against nan Nazis during World War II. “I impulse to debar repeating nan mistakes of nan past,” Kuleba added.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued his ain thinly cloaked disapproval successful his nightly reside Sunday, accusing Francis, without naming nan pope directly, of “virtually mediating” nan conflict from thousands of miles away.

“Russian murderers and torturers are incapable to march farther into Europe only because they are being held backmost by Ukrainians holding arms nether nan blue-and-yellow flag,” Zelenskyy said. “There utilized to beryllium galore achromatic walls of houses and churches successful Ukraine, but they person now been scorched and ruined by Russian shells. This speaks volumes astir who needs to extremity for nan warfare to end.”

Pope Francis Meets Ukrainian President ZelenskyUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared to knock nan pope Sunday for "virtual mediating" of nan warfare from afar. Vatican Pool / Getty Images file

Ukraine’s ambassador to nan Vatican, Andrii Yurash, told NBC News that Kyiv could not accept that nan unfortunate of nan aggression, alternatively than nan aggressor, was being asked to raise nan achromatic flag. “Nobody astatine nan clip of World War II was proposing to nan group enslaved by Hitler aliases those who were suffering aliases fighting him to commencement bid negotiations,” Yurash said successful a telephone question and reply from nan Vatican. “Because a truce pinch Hitler was termination and death. Similarly, a truce pinch Putin is termination and death.”

And nan Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church responded to Francis’ comments Sunday by saying that Ukrainians “cannot extremity defending themselves, because capitulation intends their death.”

Some of Ukraine’s closest friends were besides critical. “How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to person nan courageousness to retreat his service from Ukraine?” Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski wrote connected X. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg besides appeared to reside nan pope’s remarks Monday, without straight referring to him. “President Putin started this warfare and he could extremity it coming but Ukraine does not person this option,” Stoltenberg said. “Surrender is not peace.”

Francis sparked fury past twelvemonth by praising Russia’s imperial rulers — nan humanities pretext that Putin often uses to thief warrant his invasion. The pope besides said successful nan early months of nan warfare that “NATO’s barking astatine Russia’s door” whitethorn person precipitated nan Kremlin’s full-scale penetration of its neighbor.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni sought to explain nan pope’s remarks, saying that nan word “white flag” was portion of nan interviewer’s mobility and nan pope was repeating it. The pontiff supported “a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached pinch nan courageousness of negotiation,” Bruni said, not Ukraine’s outright surrender.

The captious guidance from Kyiv reflects its reluctance to publically see bid negotiations while President Vladimir Putin remains successful power, contempt increasing signs that its Western friends are increasing weary of supporting nan warfare and mightiness stock successful nan pope’s views that, sooner aliases later, Kyiv will person to return a spot astatine nan negotiating table.

That inclination could intensify if erstwhile President Donald Trump returns to nan White House, fixed his friends narration pinch Putin and his stated volition of ending nan warfare wrong 24 hours if elected, without saying how.

Military mobility of Ukrainian soldiers successful nan guidance of Lyman continuesUkraine has faced ammunition shortages connected nan frontlines arsenic caller subject assistance from Washington remains stalled. Jose Colon / Anadolu via Getty Images

Moscow has been publically pushing for bid negotiations since nan early months of nan war, but only connected conditions that are favorable to Russia. Ukraine has many times said it wants to push nan Russian service backmost to its borders arsenic they stood astatine nan clip it gained independency successful 1991, which implies nan eager extremity of reclaiming nan Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine’s warfare effort has been earnestly hampered successful caller months by stalled U.S. aid, ammunition shortages and growing discord among its backers. The Kremlin has taken advantage, pinch its service making dependable advances connected nan battlefield.

Asked astir Francis’ comments connected Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Putin had besides many times talked astir “our readiness and openness to lick our problems by measurement of negotiations,” but that Kyiv had rejected immoderate anticipation of talks.

Daryna Mayer reported from Kyiv, and Yuliya Talmazan from London.

Daryna Mayer

Daryna Mayer is an NBC News shaper and newsman based successful Kyiv, Ukraine.

Yuliya Talmazan

Yuliya Talmazan is simply a newsman for NBC News Digital, based successful London.