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Kyiv slams Pope’s ‘white flag’ call, vows no surrender to Russia

The pontiff has also made statements slammed by Russia
The pontiff has also made statements slammed by Russia - Copyright AFP Isabella BONOTTO
The pontiff has also made statements slammed by Russia - Copyright AFP Isabella BONOTTO

Ukraine on Sunday slammed Pope Francis’s call to negotiate with Russia two years into its invasion, vowing “never” to surrender after the pontiff said Kyiv should “have the courage to raise the white flag”.

The 87-year-old Catholic leader fuelled anger in Kyiv this weekend after he said in an interview that Ukraine should negotiate with Russia, which has seized large swathes of its territory in the offensive. 

It is not the first statement by Pope Francis during Moscow’s invasion that has caused outrage in Ukraine. The pontiff has also made statements slammed by Russia. 

“Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

He was responding to the Pope’s interview to Swiss broadcaster RTS in which the Catholic leader raised the prospect of surrender — two years after Kyiv has battled Russian forces on its territory. 

“I believe that the strongest are those who see the situation, think about the people, and have the courage to raise the white flag and negotiate,” Pope Francis said in an interview the Vatican said was conducted in early February.  

In a sign of how angered Kyiv was, Ukrainian officials compared the statement to some of the Catholic church collaborating with Nazi Germany in World War II.

“At the same time, when it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican strategy from the first half of the 20th century,” Kuleba said, calling on the Holy See to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past”.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican, Andrii Yurash, went further by comparing the Pope’s negotiation suggestion to talking to Adolf Hitler: 

“(The) lesson is only one — if we want to finish war, we have to do everything to kill (the) Dragon!,” he said on social media. 

After the interview was aired, Francis offered fresh prayers for “martyred Ukraine”, as Vatican officials said his call was simply intended to end fierce fighting.

– Kyiv hopes Francis will visit –

On Saturday evening, the Vatican issued a statement insisting the pope’s use of the phrase “white flag” — a widely used sign of surrender on the battlefield — was intended to mean “a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation”.

But the pontiff’s words were widely understood as a call for surrender and slammed by some Western diplomats.

“Russia is the aggressor and breaks international law! Therefore Germany asks Moscow to stop the war, not Kyiv!”, said Bernhard Kotsch, Germany’s envoy to the Vatican.

Kuleba said Kyiv hoped Francis would visit his war-torn country after more than two years of battling its bigger neighbour. 

“We continue to hope that after two years of devastating war in the heart of Europe, the Pontiff will find an opportunity to pay an Apostolic visit to Ukraine to support over a million Ukrainian Catholics, over five million Greek-Catholics and all Ukrainians,” Kuleba said. 

Francis drew criticism in the first months after Russia’s February 2022 invasion for failing to name Moscow as the aggressor. 

He was also criticised by Ukraine last year when he allegedly praised Russian imperial leaders Peter the Great and Catherine II. 

The pontiff has also caused upset in Russia, when he said in winter 2022 that its “cruellest” forces in Ukraine were “not of the Russian tradition”, but minorities like “the Chechens, the Buryati and so on”.

The Vatican then officially apologised to Moscow.  

Last year, Pope Francis appointed a top cardinal to try to broker peace in Ukraine who has visited Moscow, Kyiv, Washington and Beijing.  

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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