Pope Francis meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4, 2019. The pope has previously said that he's willing to meet again with Putin to help end the fighting in Ukraine. File Photo by Haring/Spaziani/UPI | License Photo
June 14 (UPI) -- Pope Francis on Tuesday again denounced Russia's bloody war in Ukraine -- and again suggested that perhaps Moscow was baited into invading the former Soviet republic.
In an interview with Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, the pontiff called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ukraine, and cautioned against viewing the war as battle between good and evil.
Previously, Francis condemned the war as a "macabre regression of humanity" and said he was willing to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss an end to the hostilities, despite the centuries-long tensions between the Russian and Catholic Orthodox churches.
In his interview, the pope said that one particular world leader expressed concern about NATO expanding eastward and the negative response it would draw from Russia. Francis said the leader made those remarks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. He did not identify the leader who made the comments.
"A couple of months before the war started I met a head of state, a wise man, who speaks very little, very wise indeed," Francis told the magazine. "He told me that he was very concerned about the way NATO was moving.
"I asked him why, and he said, 'They are barking at the gates of Russia. They do not understand that the Russians are imperialists and will allow no foreign power to approach them.'"
A Ukrainian woman is overcome with emotion after she was evacuated from the liberated town of Ryska Lozova, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on April 30. Ryska Lozova was continually shelled by Russian forces during the evacuation. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
NATO's eastward expansion includes the additions of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and other nations over the past 20 years. Russia has condemned the moves and Putin has said in recent weeks that Moscow views such expansion as a threat to its security. Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership earlier this month and Ukraine has also expressed a desire to join the defensive alliance.
The pope has previously made similar remarks about NATO possibly encroaching on Russia. Last month, he told an Italian newspaper that NATO may bear part of the blame because it expanded east and was "barking at Russia's gate."
In his interview with the magazine, Francis added that those who view the war as a struggle between good and bad should move away from what he called the "Little Red Riding Hood" pattern.
"Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad guy," he said. "Here there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in an abstract sense. Something global is emerging, with elements that are very much intertwined."
Francis, however, made clear that he does not support the war, or Putin -- and called out Russia for inflicting "brutality and ferocity" in Ukraine and using Chechen and Syrian mercenaries to do some of the fighting.
"Someone may say to me at this point: 'So you are pro-Putin.' No, I am not," he 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. While we see the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops, we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved."
In his new remarks, Pope Francis called Ukrainian troops and civilians "brave" for their success in turning back Russian troops.
A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo