– Pope Frances said he requested to meet Russian president, but has yet to hear back
– He told Italian newspaper the Russians ‘have just found out their tanks are useless’
Pope Francis said in an interview that he requested a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, while comparing the scale of the bloodshed to Rwanda’s genocide.
The pontiff told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper that he had sent a message to Putin around 20 days into the conflict saying that “I was willing to go to Moscow”.
“We have not yet received a response and we are still insisting, though I fear that Putin cannot, and does not, want to have this meeting at this time,” Francis said.
“But how is it possible to not stop such brutality? Twenty-five years ago, we lived through the same thing with Rwanda,” he said.
About 800,000 people were killed between April and July 1994 as the extremist Hutu regime tried to wipe out Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, in one of the 20th century’s biggest massacres.
The pope has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine and denounced a “cruel and senseless war” without mentioning Putin or Moscow by name.
“I’m not going to Kyiv for now. I feel I shouldn’t go. I have to go to Moscow first, I have to meet Putin first,” he said.
Francis also said Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a close Putin ally, “cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”
Dialogue with the Orthodox Church, which separated from the Catholic Church in 1054, is a priority of Francis’s pontificate.
But since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the pope’s calls for peace have contrasted with Kirill’s defence of Putin’s fight against Russia’s “external and internal enemies”.
Questioning the conflict’s causes, the pope spoke of an “anger” in the Kremlin which could have been “facilitated” by “the barking of Nato at Russia’s door”.
The remark sparked a reaction in Poland where Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek said on public television: “For sure, many of us are taking our heads in our hands on hearing what the pope has said.”
While condemning the brutality of the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis said Russians are discovering that their “tanks are useless”.
“The Russians have just found out that tanks are useless and they might be developing new weapons. Wars are fought for this reason too: to test your arsenals,” he said in the article. “The production and the sale of armaments is a disgrace, but few are bold enough to stand up against it.”
Ukrainian fighters have been destroying Russian tanks with Western imports like Javelins, and Ukrainian-made Stugna-Ps, as well as other anti-tank weapons throughout the war; researchers currently estimate 600 Russian tanks have been destroyed or lost.
Experts have said that Russian tanks have a design flaw that makes them susceptible to decapitation that will kill their crew, known as “jack-in-the-box effect,” CNN reported. The United States and other Nato allies are continuing to arm Ukraine with anti-tank weaponry as well as heavy artillery.
The pope also said that when he met Viktor Orban on April 21, the Hungarian prime minister told him “the Russian have a plan, that everything will end on May 9”, referring to the anniversary of Russia’s liberation at the end of World War II.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the anniversary would have no bearing on Moscow’s military operations in Ukraine.
Moscow describes its action in Ukraine as a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Business Insider