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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have been “in some way provoked”, Pope Francis has said, in comments falling far short of condemning Vladimir Putin as an aggressor towards Ukraine.

In the text of a conversation he had last month with editors of Jesuit media that was published on Tuesday, the pontiff praised “brave” Ukrainians for fighting for survival but also said the situation was not black and white.

He went on to say that the war was “perhaps in some way provoked”.

While condemning “the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops, we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved,” Francis said, including the armaments industry among the factors that provide incentives for war.

“It is also true that the Russians thought it would all be over in a week. But they miscalculated.

The pontiff praised “brave” Ukrainians for fighting for survival ( AFP via Getty Images)

“They encountered a brave people, a people who are struggling to survive and who have a history of struggle,” he said in the transcript of the conversation, published by the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica.

“This is what moves us: to see such heroism. I would really like to emphasise this point, the heroism of the Ukrainian people. What is before our eyes is a situation of world war, global interests, arms sales and geopolitical appropriation, which is martyring a heroic people,” he said.

“Yet here the situation is even more complex due to the direct intervention of a ‘superpower’ aimed at imposing its own will in violation of the principle of the self-determination of peoples,” he said.

It comes after Francis said several months before Putin sent his forces into Ukraine that he had met with a head of state who expressed concern that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia ” in a way that could lead to war.

Pope Francis has restrained from calling Putin an “aggressor” in the war ( Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

At that time, Francis had said: “We do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented”.

Asking himself rhetorically if that made him “pro-Putin”, he said: “No, I am not. It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing”.

He also explained how he had made efforts to speak to Putin about stopping the war, after he had contacted Ukrainian President Zelensky.

Speaking last month during a Sunday blessing, he said: “Faced with the barbarity of killing of children, of innocents and unarmed civilians, no strategic reasons can hold up.”

However, several critics have said the Pope’s messaging regarding the war has fallen short – he has avoided explicitly criticising the Russian president and had not called him an aggressor.

While Francis may not have specifically criticised Putin himself, Italian news outlet La Stampa said the Pontiff labelled Russia’s use of mercenaries in Ukraine — including Chechens and Syrians — as “monstrous.”

He also described the Russian troops as “ferocious and cruel”.

The Pope went on to say that he hoped to meet Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Kazakhstan in September.

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