In his New Year’s address to accredited Ambassadors to the Holy See, Pope Francis mentioned growing international tensions over Ukraine. As international talks get underway in Geneva, the Holy Father reiterated that the crisis can be resolved through dialogue based on mutual trust.
In his annual address to the members of the Diplomatic Corps on Monday, the Pope stressed that “reciprocal trust and readiness to engage in calm discussions should inspire all parties at stake”. The call follows his latest appeal during the Angelus prayer on December 12.
Indeed, lack of mutual trust between Russia, on one side, and Ukraine and the West, on the other, have hindered any diplomatic way out to the crisis which triggered off after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow’s involvement in the armed conflict in the separatist Donbass region.
The conflict has claimed at least 14,000 lives and displaced more than 1.5 million people, resulting in a major humanitarian crisis.
Russian troops on the Ukrainian border
Tensions have escalated again in recent weeks, following Russia amassing some 100,000 troops on the borders with Ukraine, which has prompted fears by NATO members of an invasion and of a new war.
US President Joe Biden has repeatedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States and its European allies would impose unprecedented sanctions if Moscow chose to invade the country. Both the US and the EU have said they are committed to defend the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
For its part, Russia has denied invasion plans and said it is responding to what it calls an aggressive and provocative behaviour from NATO and Ukraine. This issue has been lingering since 2008, when the western military alliance agreed to admit the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia, but had to postpone membership talks following firm opposition from the Kremlin.
Dim prospects of a breakthrough
In late December, Moscow presented a series of diplomatic demands that include a ban on further NATO expansion to former Soviet states and an end to the alliance’s activity in central and eastern European countries that joined it in the 1990s.
However, the United States and NATO have rejected a large part of the Russian proposals. This is why, according to many analysts, the talks starting today are unlikely to produce a breakthrough.
Major Archbishop Shevchuk praying for Donbass
The conflict in the eastern Donbass region was recalled by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych during the Christmas festivities.
In his Christmas Message, the Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church espressed his closeness to the prisoners of war and those held captive in the conflict and encouraged them to not lose spirit.
In his homily for the Eastern Rite Christmas Day, on January 7, he sent his greetings to Catholics in Donbass and Crimea, and also expressed prayers for the “brothers and sisters in Kazakhstan”, who are facing a crackdown on protests by the government supported by Russia.