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Pope Francis: Russian war in Ukraine was ‘perhaps provoked’

In an interview published Tuesday, Pope Francis said Russia’s war in Ukraine was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented” — controversial remarks that will raise eyebrows internationally.

He made the remarks during an interview with Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica conducted in mid-May but published Tuesday.

“Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro-Putin! No, I am not,” Francis said. “It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex.”

The pope also recalled a conversation he had before the war with an unnamed head of state — a “wise man” — who told Francis he was concerned about NATO and Russia.

“He said, ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia. The situation could lead to war,’” the pope said. “That head of state was able to read the signs of what was happening.”

The remarks will likely spark criticism as they echo Russia’s narrative that NATO expansion into former Soviet Union territory forced Moscow to invade Ukraine. Russia’s all-out assault, which began in late February, was launched unilaterally, leaving thousands dead.

In the interview, the pontiff did criticize Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, pointing to the “brutality and ferocity” of the Russian troops, and emphasizing “the heroism of the Ukrainian people.”

The pope’s new comments come a month after he said himself in an interview that NATO may have “perhaps facilitated” the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine by “barking” at Russia’s door.

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