Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the use of mercenaries in Russia's war against Ukraine, saying they were inflicting "so much cruelty" on the population.
Speaking at the end of his general audience, he said: "I renew my call for prayers for the martyred Ukraine, let us ask the Lord for peace for these people who are so troubled and who suffer so much cruelty, so much cruelty by the mercenaries who are making war."
The pope did not specifically mention Russia and he did not elaborate.
The Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, has been accused by the European Union and the United States of mounting clandestine operations on the Kremlin's behalf in Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded in February.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the group does not represent the state but that private military contractors have the right to work anywhere in the world as long as they do not break Russian law.