Pope Francis for the first time implicitly criticizes Putin over Ukraine

The pope has already strongly condemned what he has called an "unjustified aggression" and denounced "atrocities" in the war.

 POPE FRANCIS greets visitors during the weekly general audience at the Vatican last Wednesday. He is an honorary recipient of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. (photo credit: REMO CASSILI/REUTERS)
POPE FRANCIS greets visitors during the weekly general audience at the Vatican last Wednesday. He is an honorary recipient of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.
(photo credit: REMO CASSILI/REUTERS)

Pope Francis came the closest he has yet to implicitly criticizing President Vladimir Putin over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying on Saturday a "potentate" was fomenting conflicts for nationalist interests.

Moscow says the action it launched on February 24 is a "special military operation" designed not to occupy territory but to demilitarize and "denazify" its neighbor. Francis has already rejected that terminology, calling it a war.

"From the east of Europe, from the land of the sunrise, the dark shadows of war have now spread. We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past," the pope said in an address to Maltese officials after arriving on the Mediterranean island nation for a two-day visit.

"However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all," he said.

"Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that, will either shared, or not be at all," he said.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2022. (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2022. (credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

The pope has already strongly condemned what he has called an "unjustified aggression" and denounced "atrocities" in the war.

But he has only referred to Russia directly in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25.

"Now in the night of the war that is fallen upon humanity, let us not allow the dream of peace to fade!" he said on Saturday.

Earlier, Francis said he was considering a trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Asked by a reporter on the plane taking him from Rome to Malta if he was considering an invitation made by Ukrainian political and religious authorities, the pope answered: "Yes, it is on the table." He gave no further details.

Francis has been invited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine's Byzantine-rite Catholic Church and Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash.

He has spoken on the phone with Zelensky and Shevchuk.