Pope Francis recently doubled down on previous controversial statements he made in suggesting that the Russia-Ukraine war is largely the fault of NATO, while also saying that "war cannot be reduced to distinction between good guys and bad guys," as the Vatican's own headline containing the interview says.
In statements published earlier this week by the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, the Roman Catholic leader -- who has literally no formal national security education -- said that the Russian invasion was "perhaps somehow provoked" while again claiming there were signs that NATO had been "barking at the gates of Russia" in the run-up, despite the fact that NATO has never outwardly claimed to want war with Moscow's forces.
He did, thankfully, at least go on to condemn the "ferocity and cruelty of the Russian troops" while excusing their behavior by warning against a purely "good vs. evil" narrative to describe the war.
Like he did with similar comments at the beginning of May, the pontiff's latest remarks have led to outrage among Western pundits who have (wrongly) called for ramping up of military support for Ukraine rather than try to engage in new dialogue with Moscow with an eye towards ending the conflict (an approach that would give Russia an honorable 'out').
"We need to move away from the usual Little Red Riding Hood pattern, in that Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad one," Francis said. “Something global is emerging and the elements are very much entwined.”
He then provided more content regarding his statements in early May, saying that a couple of months before Russia's Feb. 24 invasion he met with a "wise" head of state, though he did not reveal who that was.
"...[A] wise man who speaks little, a very wise man indeed...He told me that he was very worried about how NATO was moving. I asked him why, and he replied: ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia. They don’t understand that the Russians are imperial and can’t have any foreign power getting close to them.'"
"He concluded, 'The situation could lead to war.' This was his opinion. On 24 February, the war began. That head of state was able to read the signs of what was happening," Francis added.
Pope Francis’s refusal to condemn Putin spurs debate in Catholic Church https://t.co/ziRL2cmJdo
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) May 21, 2022
Continuing, he noted: "We do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was, perhaps, somehow either provoked or not prevented."
"Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro-Putin! No, I am not. It would be simplistic and erroneous to say such a thing. I am simply against turning a complex situation into a distinction between good guys and bad guys, without considering the roots and self-interests, which are very complex. While we witness the ferocity and cruelty of Russian troops, we should not forget the problems, and seek to solve them," he explained.
According to the Vatican interview, Frances also said that beyond the Russia-Ukraine conflict, "the world is at war..."
"We see what is happening now in Ukraine in a certain way because it is closer to us and pricks our sensibilities more. But there are other countries far away—think of some parts of Africa, northern Nigeria, northern Congo—where war is ongoing and nobody cares. Think of Myanmar and the Rohingya. The world is at war. Today, for me, World War III has been declared," he said.