Ukraine’s Zelenskyy dismisses Pope’s ‘white flag’ remarks while Russia says it’s ‘understandable’

Russia had expressed its willingness and openness to negotiations, says Kremlin

Pope Francis Zelenskyy remarks Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy | AP

After Pope Francis's comments on the Ukraine war saying the country should have the "courage to raise the white flag", President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hits back saying the Pope was engaging in “virtual mediation”. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Kyiv will never yield and the nation’s flag is yellow and blue.

Zelenskyy said that the Pope's ideas had nothing to do with efforts by religious figures in Ukraine to help the country. However, Zelenskyy did not directly refer to Francis. 

“They support us with prayer, with their discussion and with deeds. This is indeed what a church with the people is,” Zelenskyy said. “Not 2,500 km away, somewhere, virtual mediation between someone who wants to live and someone who wants to destroy you,” he added. 

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry's spokesperson, Maria Zakharova said “The way I see it, the pope is asking the West to put aside its ambitions and admit that it was wrong.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, "It is quite understandable that he (the pope) spoke in favour of negotiations." Peskov said that President Vladimir Putin had repeatedly spoken of Russia's willingness and openness to negotiations, but that Ukraine had knocked down such proposals.

"Unfortunately, both the statements of the Pope and the repeated statements of other parties, including ours, have recently received harsh refusals," Peskov was quoted by Reuters. 

Several politicians and European commentators came to the forefront criticising Pope’s remarks. Dennis Radtke, a German Christian Democrat MEP, said the word “shameful” could be used to describe the pope’s comments. 

Francis made his comments in an interview recorded by Swiss broadcaster RSI in February. The interview was broadcasted on Saturday. “I believe that the strongest are those who see the situation, think about the people, and have the courage to raise the white flag and negotiate,” said the Pope in the interview.

“That word negotiate is a brave word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not working out, to have the courage to negotiate," he added. He also said that Ukrainians should not be afraid to negotiate a peace deal before the situation worsens further.

Later, the Vatican issued a statement clarifying the Pope’s comments. The Vatican’s director of communications, Matteo Bruni, said that Francis had used the term white flag “to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation”. 

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