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The pope raises eyebrows after saying Ukraine should have the 'courage of the white flag' and negotiate with Russia

The pope raises eyebrows after saying Ukraine should have the 'courage of the white flag' and negotiate with Russia
  • Pope Francis said Ukraine should have the 'courage of the white flag' and negotiate with Russia.

  • This is not the first time the pontiff has been criticized for his remarks on the war.

  • Peace talks remain a long way off for both sides.

Pope Francis has sparked controversy after saying Ukraine should have the "courage of the white flag" and negotiate an end to the war with Russia.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster RSI recorded last month, the head of the Catholic Church said: "When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate."

"Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse," the pope added, referring to a number of countries who had offered themselves as potential mediators, such as Turkey. Ukraine will not engage directly with Russia on peace talks.

His comments raised eyebrows. According to Visegrad 24, Latvian President Edgers Rinkēvičs said: "You can't capitulate to evil, you have to fight it and defeat it, so that evil raises the white flag and capitulates."

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni was quick to clarify that the pope had not been suggesting that Ukraine should "surrender" but had picked up on the term "white flag" proposed by the interviewer and used it "to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation."

"The pope clearly stated: 'Negotiations are never a surrender,'" Bruni added.

A spokesman for Zelenskyy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first time the pope has caused unease

Whilst this is believed to be the first time Pope Francis has used terms like "white flag" or "defeated" in reference to Ukraine's position on the battlefield, the pontiff has been consistently criticized for his ambiguous remarks toward Russia's invasion.

In August 2022, the pope strained relations with Kyiv after referring to the death of Russian ultra-nationalist Darya Dugina as an innocent victim of war.

Dugina, the daughter of Alexander Dugin, who has long taken a hardline view toward the creation of a new Russian empire, was killed by a car bomb near Moscow. Dugina actively supported her father's ideology and appeared on Russian state TV promoting Russia's actions in Ukraine.

At the time, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Francis' words were "unfair" and had "broken Ukraine's heart."

Francis Zelensky
Pope Francis meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on May 13, 2023Vatican Media Vatican Pool/Getty Images

A year later, the pontiff was again excoriated by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for his controversial remarks that praised "great Russia".

He implored young Russians to be "artisans of peace" and to "never forget your inheritance."

"You are the heirs of the great Russia. The great Russia of the saints, of the kings, of the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great imperial Russia, cultivated, with so much culture and humanity," he said.

Oleh Nikolenko, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, responded to the pope's comments, saying that "it is with this kind of imperialist propaganda, 'spiritual bonds' and the 'need' to save 'Great Mother Russia' that the Kremlin justifies the murders of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of hundreds of Ukrainian towns and villages."

Spokesman Bruni was forced to step in then as well.

The pope "certainly didn't want to exalt imperialistic logic of government personalities," Bruni said at the time.

Before this, in the fall of 2022, Francis expressed his shock at the cruelty of Russian occupiers in Ukraine, saying that such behavior was not characteristic of the typical Russian person. "I prefer to think this way because I have great respect for the Russian people, for Russian humanism," the pope said at the time.

In Ukraine, the pontiff's statement was perceived as an attempt to shift responsibility for the war from the Russian people to "soldiers" and "mercenaries" who, as Francis stated, "go to war as an adventure."

Peace talks are still a long way off

The pope's latest comments come as Ukrainian and Russian officials continue to rebuke negotiation prospects.

Last Friday, during a meeting in Istanbul with President Zelenskyy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to host a summit between Ukraine and Russia to end the conflict.

Zelensky Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet in Istanbul March 8, 2024Ozan Guzelce/dia images via Getty Images

But Russia and Ukraine continue to speak at cross purposes.

Zelenskyy has said that whilst he wants peace, he will not give up any territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The Ukrainian leader also fears that any negotiated peace will only give Russia a chance to rearm before invading again.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, has consistently refused to engage in peace talks on terms set by Kyiv.

Read the original article on Business Insider