Pope Francis criticised for Russia comments

Pope Francis criticised for Russia comments
Photo: Nacho Arteaga - Unsplash

Pope Francis has been criticised by Russians, both supporters and opponents of the war, for his comments regarding the differences in conduct between different ethnic groups taking part in the invasion of Ukraine. 

In an interview published on Monday by the Catholic magazine America, Francis was asked about his apparent reluctance to directly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine or to speak about Vladimir Putin. He responded by saying that he tries to avoid condemning individual people, and prefers to speak in general terms “although it is known exactly who I am condemning”. 

However, his more controversial comments were when he stated that he had received “a lot of information about the brutality of the Russian troops”. He went on to state that “in general, the cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia, but not of the Russian tradition – like the Chechens, the Buryats, and so on”. 

Media sources such as The Guardian have in the past shown that a disproportionately large number of Russian soldiers come from ethnic minorities. For example, the predominately Muslim Chechen soldiers from the south-west region of Chechnya, or the Buryats, an ethnic Mongol group from Buryatia, in eastern Siberia. 

As reported by De Standaard, these comments quickly sparked discontent among Russians. On the one hand, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the comments with spokeswoman Maria Zakharova taking to Telegram to say that “this is no longer Russophobia, it’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name anymore”. She went on to add that “We are one family with Buryats, Chechens and other representatives of our multinational and multiconfessional country”. 

However, it was not only supporters of the Kremlin who expressed their opposition to Francis’ comments. Aleksandra Garmazjapova, the founder of the anti-war organisation Free Buryatia, said “I was very disappointed when I read these racist, unforgivable statements. Russia is waging an imperial war, started and led by Vladimir Putin who is not a member of any ethnic minority. The pope should personally condemn him, but he decided to avoid the Russian president.”

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