The Pope’s remarks that some minority groups of soldiers had acted worse than others during the invasion of Ukraine have drawn criticism from Russia.
According to Pope Francis, Chechens and Buryats are typically the “cruellest” soldiers.
He also referred to the 1930s Holodomor famine in Ukraine, which the Kremlin brought about, as a genocide.
Russia referred to the comments as “perversion” and claimed that all nationalities were “one family.”
In an interview with the Jesuit publication America, Pope Francis was questioned about his ostensible reluctance to express a strong condemnation of Russia for the conflict.
He replied that he had learned “a great deal about the brutality of the military.”
According to him, Chechens, Buryats, and other people who are native to Russia but do not follow its traditions are generally the cruelest.
The Russian state, the pope continued, “is the one that invades.”
The majority of Chechens, an ethnic group with roots in Chechnya in southwest Russia, are Muslims.
The Buryats are a Mongol ethnic group that is native to Buryatia in eastern Siberia. They typically practice Buddhism and shamanism.
Numerous ethnically and religiously diverse republics can be found in Russia. Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith.
The Pope claimed to have spoken on the phone numerous times with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and to have done the same with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, via the Holy See’s ambassador.
In apparent response to accusations of not directly condemning President Putin, he said: “Sometimes I try not to specify so as not to offend and rather condemn in general, although it is well known whom I am condemning. It is not necessary that I put a name and surname.”
The Pope said, “Everyone knows my opinion, with Putin or without Putin, without identifying him,” later in the conversation.
According to state-run news agency RT, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, denounced the remarks.
“This is no longer Russophobia, it’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name,” she said.
Later, Ms. Zakharova posted on Telegram, “We are one family with Buryats, Chechens, and other representatives of our multinational and multi-confessional country.
In addition, Pope Francis stated that he intended to commemorate the Holodomor anniversary, referring to it as a genocide and a “historical antecedent” of the current war.
This famine in 1932–1933, which was brought on by the collectivization of farms under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, resulted in up to four million deaths among Ukrainians.