In addition to being a political power, the Vatican is the administrative center of the Catholicism sect. The Pope is the spiritual leader of all Christians of the Catholic denomination. Therefore, Pope Francis has the ability to deeply influence the millions who belong to this faith. In this context, the Ukrainian Government considers it extremely important to be able to get the Pope’s support.
Moreover, considering that the Russia-Ukraine War developed on the axis of Eastern Europe and that this geography hosted a serious Catholic population, it can be better understood why Kyiv aspires to benefit from the support of the Vatican. The majority of citizens of countries that are important in Eastern European geopolitics, such as Poland, Czechia, Hungary and Croatia, belong to the Catholic denomination.
The Vatican’s stance towards the Russia-Ukraine War, which began on February 24, 2022, has been a subject of discussion since the mentioned process. In particular, the Pope’s attitude, which does not directly target Russia, has caused a reaction from both Ukraine and other circles in the West. Although the Pope has repeatedly condemned the war, he has been criticized by some circles for leaving the door open for negotiations with Russia. For example, on April 17, 2022, the Pope condemned the war and pointed out that the conflict was brutal and meaningless. However, it was observed that the Pope refrained from mentioning the name of Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech.
Therefore, it can be suggested that the Vatican is trying to play the role of a mediator at the point of war and therefore, in a sense, is trying to carry out a policy of balance. However, the Vatican’s policy is far from pleasing both sides. Both Moscow and Kyiv have frequently criticized the Vatican’s policies. In this context, it can be argued that the Vatican is far from using its political and religious power effectively on the course of the war.
On the other hand, on June 14, 2022, Pope Francis shared his views on the war in Ukraine in an interview with La Civilta Cattolica as follows:
“What we are seeing is the brutality and ferocity of this war, which is usually used by the Russians and is usually carried out by mercenary troops. In reality, the Russians prefer to send Chechens, Syrians, mercenaries to the front… At this point someone may say to me: But you are pro-Putin! No, I’m not. It would be simplistic and erroneous to say such a thing. I am simply against turning a complex situation into a distinction between good guys and bad guys, without considering the roots and self-interests, which are very complex.”
One of the most striking points in the Pope’s statements on the subject is his emphasis on non-Christian ethnic elements about the war that Russia is waging in Ukraine. Therefore, it can be suggested that the Pope consciously preferred these statements. The Vatican, even if they belong to different sects, sees the war as a conflict between Christians. In this case, the Vatican’s unwillingness to confront Russia, one of the important centers of Orthodoxy, may have been effective. The Pope also responded to the criticism levelled against him since the beginning of the war, pointing out that in a sense, the conflict should not be seen as black and white.
On the other hand, some Vatican experts have pointed out that the war means the end of the multi-dimensional foreign policy pursued by the Vatican towards Russia since Pope Francis took office in 2013. It has been stated that the Pope remained mostly equidistant during the first weeks of the war, but with the advancing process, he raised the tone of his voice against Russia.
In this context, it can be argued that the Pope’s policy towards Russia since his inauguration has been based on a balancing factor. The Pope has refrained from developing a critical discourse, especially on the issues in which Moscow is involved in the world. However, the war has in a sense meant the end of this policy.
In addition to all these, although the Vatican tries to carry out mediation activities on the war, it can be said that this policy does not satisfy the parties. As will be remembered, the Pope was subjected to harsh criticism from Kyiv on August 24, 2022. The main reason for this is that the Pope refers to the death of Marya Dugina, the daughter of Alexander Dugin, who was allegedly close to Putin on this date, which coincides with Ukraine’s independence day, and emphasizes that many innocents have paid the price of this war. Kyiv reacted strongly to the Pope’s statements, and Ukrainian Ambassador to the Vatican Andriy Yurash expressed that the aggressor and the victim should not be put in the same category. Moreover, the Vatican’s Ambassador to Kyiv was also summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine because of these statements of the Pope.
As can be seen, Kyiv is not satisfied with the Vatican’s position on the war. Kyiv was extremely disturbed by the Pope’s making such a statement, especially on the independence day of Ukraine. It is noticeable that the Ukrainian leadership is not satisfied with the balance policy that the Vatican is trying to pursue. Kyiv expects more concrete support from the Pope and wants him to use his influence over the Catholic population of Eastern Europe for Ukraine.
On the other hand, the Pope made statements on the war in Ukraine on November 28, 2022. The Pope drew attention to the importance of diplomacy in relations with Moscow. In addition, Francis recalled his personal efforts to end the conflict and support Kyiv, mentioning his visit to the Russian Embassy in Rome on the second day of the war, February 25, 2022, and two telephone conversations with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. Furthermore, the Pope spoke about his interventions aimed at freeing prisoners of war on both sides and stressed that he wanted to visit both Kyiv and Moscow. However, he also insisted that it was not necessary to openly mention Putin’s name.
As can be understood, the Pope thinks that only diplomacy can be effective in resolving the war. In this context, it continues to carry out mediation activities between the parties. On the other hand, the fact that Putin does not mention his name directly leads to Ukraine’s reaction.
On the other hand, some points in the Pope’s statement on the date caused Moscow to react harshly as well. The Pope pointed out that Chechen and Buryat members of the Russian Armed Forces committed more atrocities in Ukraine than ethnic Russian soldiers. He also suggested that the ethnic groups are not from the Russian tradition. After Moscow reacted harshly to this, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mariya Zaharova stated that the Vatican apologized to Russia on December 15, 2022, and stated that Moscow now considers the matter closed.
As can be seen, the Pope draws attention to Russian and non-Christian ethnic structures regarding the war that Russia has been waging in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Chechens are Muslims, and Buryats are Buddhists. In this context, the Pope attaches importance to the Christian identity of Russia, even though Russians belong to the sect of Orthodoxy. Therefore, this situation plays a role in shaping the Vatican’s approach to Moscow.
Consequently, the Vatican has been trying to carry out mediation activities between Moscow and Kyiv since the beginning of the war. However, although the Pope tries to carry out a policy of balance and diplomatic activities between the parties to some extent, it seems that Ukraine and Russia are not very satisfied with the Vatican’s policy.
 “Pope Condemns War in Ukraine but Doesn’t Name Putin”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-war-pope-francis-condemns-vladimir-putin/, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).
 “Pope: War Cannot be Reduced to Distinction Between Good Guys and Bad Guys”, Vatican News, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-06/pope-francis-ukraine-war-interview-civilta-cattolica.html, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).
 Eleonora Vasques, “How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Ended Vatican’s Multilateral Foreign Policy”, Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/interview/how-russias-invasion-of-ukraine-ended-vatican-citys-multilateral-foreign-policy/, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).
 “Vatican Seeks to Clarify Pope’s Stance on Ukraine”, Voice of America, https://www.voanews.com/a/vatican-seeks-to-clarify-pope-s-stance-on-ukraine-/6722503.html, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).
 “Pope: Polarization is not Catholic, Dialogue is the Only Way”, Vatican News https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-11/pope-polarization-is-not-catholic-dialogue-is-the-only-way.html, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).
 “Racist Interview with Pope Francis Causes Fury in Russia”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/29/interview-pope-francis-fury-russia, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).
 “Moscow Says Vatican Apologised Over Pope’s Comments About ‘Cruel’ Russian Ethnic Minorities”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/moscow-says-vatican-apologised-over-popes-comments-about-cruel-russian-ethnic-2022-12-15/, (Date of Accession: 27.12.2022).