Pope suggests NATO facilitated war by ‘barking at Russia’s door’
Pope Francis waves to the crowds that gathered in St.Peter's Square at the Vatican as he recites the Regina Coeli noon prayer from the window of his studio, April 24, 2022. Andrew Medichini | AP

Pope Francis appears to be at least partially blaming the West for the war in Ukraine. In an interview published this week, he suggested that Russia’s invasion may have been encouraged by the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door.”

The Pontiff held back from accusing NATO or the U.S. of directly provoking the invasion itself, however, when he talked about Russian anger about the role of the West in the buildup to the conflict. He described that anger as “an anger that I don’t know if you can say it was provoked but maybe facilitated,” in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

He was unequivocal, however, in his condemnation of the invasion itself and of the arms industry in the West, describing the pumping of weapons into Ukraine and the subsequent profiteering by armaments makers as a “scandal” that he has heard “too few oppose.”

Francis has used his papacy to advocate for disarmament. He has traveled to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to pray for peace, and he has called out the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for what they have done in Yemen.

He castigated the weapons manufacturers for using the war in Ukraine to test ever more dangerous and deadly weapons.

“What is clear is that in that land, weapons are being tested,” he said. “That is why you make wars: to test weapons we have created.”

In Rome on April 15, Francis said he was concerned that World War III is already being fought, although piecemeal, in “every corner of the world—in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Africa, one war after another.”

The Pope told his interviewer that he could not answer the question of whether it is right to send weapons to Ukraine.

“I can’t answer, I’m too far away, to the question of whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians,” Francis said. “There are international interests in every bit. One cannot think that a free state can wage war on another free state. In Ukraine, it was the others [the Russians] who created the conflict.”

The Pope has avoided condemning Putin directly, however, in the hope he can serve as a peacemaker and said this week that he wants to go to Moscow.

A June meeting between Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill in Jerusalem was called off recently over Vatican concerns that it would send what the Vatican called an “ambiguous” signal, but the two did talk for 40 minutes over videoconference in March. Kirill has strongly supported Russia’s position on the war.

Francis said in the interview that Kirill spent half of that March meeting reading off “all the justifications for the war” and said that Kirill must not “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy.”

For years, the Pope has tried to improve relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, but those efforts are endangered now because of the war. Increased sanctions that were discussed Wednesday by the European Union have reportedly infuriated Kirill.

Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoyda suggested that sanctions would only delay peace.

“You have to be completely unaware of the history of our church to think that it’s possible to scare its clergy and believers by putting them on some kind of lists,” Legoyda said Wednesday.

The Pope’s suggestion that the West and NATO bear some of the responsibility for the war in Ukraine was not received positively in government circles in strongly Catholic Poland. Zbigniew Rau, the Polish foreign minister, said he was holding his face in his hands when he heard the Pope’s criticisms.

Poland, a country led now by the extreme right-wing Law and Justice Party, has allowed NATO to place nuclear-capable missiles on its eastern borders, close to Russia. Other countries doing the same include Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

This story features material from the Associated Press and other sources


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.