Vatican working ‘behind the scenes’ to end war as spring offensive looms

Marc Bennetts

May 2, 2023

The Times


A secret Vatican peace mission to end the fighting in Ukraine appears to have been shot down by Kyiv as the country prepares for a long-awaited counteroffensive to drive out President Putin’s invading army. Pope Francis said on Sunday that the Vatican was involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to end the war. “There is a mission in course now but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it,” he said after a trip to Hungary that involved talks with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, and a Russian Orthodox bishop. “Everyone is interested in the road to peace,” the Pope added.

Last week, Denys Shmyhal, the Ukrainian prime minister, said he had discussed President Zelensky’s peace formula with the Pope during a meeting at the Vatican. Zelensky’s plan includes the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine and the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. The Kremlin has rejected both demands. Shmyhal also said he had asked the Pope to help repatriate about 19,500 Ukrainian children who have been deported to Russia or Kremlin-controlled areas of Ukraine.

Francis has said he wants to visit Kyiv and Moscow on a peace mission to end the 14-month conflict, the most serious fighting in Europe since the end of the Second World War. However, an official close to the Ukrainian president’s office said Zelensky had not consented to peace efforts on Ukraine’s behalf. “If talks are happening, they are happening without our knowledge or our blessing,” the official, who was not identified, told CNN.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, also said that the Kremlin was unaware of a Vatican peace mission. Kyiv has said there can be no peace until it has recovered all territory seized by Russia since 2014, including Crimea. A ceasefire, Zelensky’s government argues, would simply allow Russia to regroup and bolster its forces before launching a new invasion. Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said that “unborn future generations” of Russians would pay the price for Putin’s invasion. “It will not be possible to hide from this in any country in the world,” Yermak wrote on Telegram. “They will go down in history as descendants of Russian terrorists.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, suggested that Russia had launched missiles against Ukrainian civilian targets to provoke Kyiv into beginning its counteroffensive before it had completed its final preparations. At least 25 people, including six children, have been killed in Russian missile strikes across Ukraine in recent days.