Pope Francis says Russia’s February-present military operation in Ukraine was likely Moscow’s reaction to the Western military alliance of NATO’s eastward expansion ambitions.
Moscow perhaps reacted to NATO’s “barking at Russia’s gate,” the pontiff told Italy’s Corriere Della Sera newspaper that published the interview on Tuesday.
On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.
Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
The Holy See said he had requested to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine 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,” he added.
The pope, meanwhile, said, "I'm not going to Kiev for now. I feel I shouldn't go. I have to go to Moscow first, I have to meet Putin first."
Russia has signaled a willingness to end the operation if Ukraine accepted Moscow’s “security demands,” which include Kiev’s refusal to join NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr has announced readiness to meet with Putin on several occasions.
At the same time, however, he has expressed skepticism about Moscow's stated plan of a military scaleback, saying, "We will not decrease our defense efforts." Moscow has, on the other hand, complained repeatedly that Kiev keeps changing its position concerning the conflict.
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