ROME (AP) — According to Pope Francis, NATO’s “barking” at Russia’s door may have prompted Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and he has volunteered to meet with Putin in Moscow.
Francis pondered on Russia’s murderous aggression toward its neighbor in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, saying that while he wouldn’t go so far as to suggest NATO’s presence in adjacent nations “provoked” Moscow, it “possibly assisted” the attack.
Francis also decried the war’s “brutality,” comparing it to Rwanda’s civil war in the 1990s, which resulted in the Tutsi minority’s genocide.
The Holy See has been requesting a meeting between Francis and Putin in Moscow since mid-March, according to the pope. “Of course, we wanted the Kremlin’s chief to set aside some time. We haven’t gotten an answer yet, and we’re still trying, even though I’m afraid Putin won’t be able or willing to meet at this time.”
“First I have to go to Moscow, first I have to meet Putin,” Francis said in the interview, ruling out a trip to Kyiv for the time being.
Francis said he had canceled a meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a key backer of Putin who has justified the war, as they both thought it would look “ambiguous” — but in a phone call said he warned Kirill not to “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy.”
Since the invasion of Ukraine, Francis has repeatedly criticized the invasion, while avoiding naming Putin explicitly, in line with the Vatican’s foreign policy of keeping the door open for possible dialogue.
The Russian embassy to the Holy See did not immediately respond to phone calls or an emailed request for comment. A spokesman for the Vatican did not respond to request for comment.