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‘Something is moving’ on Ukraine peace – Vatican

Papal envoys in Moscow and Kiev “are doing an excellent job,” Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi said

Pope Francis’ efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine are gaining pace, the pontiff’s lead negotiator between Moscow and Kiev told Italian media on Sunday. While much has been made of the Vatican’s peace plan, it has not yet yielded any visible results.

A visit by the Pope to Budapest in April ended in a surprise announcement that he was working on a secret “mission” to bring a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Ukraine. The pontiff tasked Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi with leading the initiative the following month, but despite high-profile trips to Moscow, Kiev, Beijing, and Washington by the cardinal, the church is apparently no closer to its goal.

“At a diplomatic level we are starting to come to terms with the almost zero results of the diplomatic mission launched by Pope Francis,” Vatican correspondent Franca Giansoldati wrote in Italy’s Il Messaggero last month.

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Pope Francis leads a prayer for peace at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on October 27, 2023.
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Zuppi denies that the mission is stalled. “Something is moving,” he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday. “I have been to Kiev and Moscow. I’ve been to Washington and Beijing. Both the Russians and the Ukrainians have recognized the role of the Holy See. The nuncios in the two capitals are doing an excellent job.”

From the outset, Zuppi stressed that humanitarian agreements, like prisoner swaps, would pave the way for peace between Moscow and Kiev. He also made the return of children from Russia to territories claimed by Ukraine a key goal, but made no inroads, as while Kiev accuses Moscow of “kidnapping” Ukrainian children, Moscow argues that it has evacuated kids from Russian-speaking regions where they were in mortal danger from Ukrainian shelling.

A mere handshake between Zuppi and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, in June was enough to cause outrage in Ukraine, while relations between the Vatican and Kiev soured further in August when Pope Francis praised Russia’s “great cultural heritage.” This statement was enough for Ukrainian presidential aide Mikhail Podoliak to call the pontiff “an instrument of Russian propaganda.” 

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FILE PHOTO: Mikhail Podoliak
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Despite suffering staggering losses on the battlefield, Ukraine continues to rule out peace talks with Russia, with President Vladimir Zelensky insisting that the only viable peace formula is his own. This ten-point document demands that Russia pay reparations, surrender its officials to face war crimes tribunals, and restore Ukraine’s 1991 borders.

The Kremlin has dismissed this plan as “absurd.” Ukraine squandered its chances of an advantageous settlement when it withdrew from peace talks last April, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said in a social media post earlier this month. Accordingly, “any possible deal now will be reflecting [Kiev’s] capitulation,” he added.

“There will be peace [in Ukraine] when we achieve our goals,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week, reiterating that these goals include “the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine, [as well as] its neutral status.”


December 25, 2023 at 12:44AM

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