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Pope's call for Ukraine's surrender receives criticism from Scholz, Stoltenberg

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 11, 2024 5:32 PM 3 min read
Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus blessing overlooking St. Peter's Square on July 30, 2023, in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo credit: Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis' call for Ukraine to "not be ashamed to negotiate" with Russia received critical responses from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO General Jens Stoltenberg on March 11.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster RSI that was partially released on March 9, Pope Francis said that Ukraine should have the "courage" to negotiate peace with Russia and raise the "white flag."

President Volodymyr Zelensky responded in his nightly address on March 10 without mentioning the Pope directly, saying that Russia is "not moving further into Europe only because they are being held back by Ukrainians with weapons in their hands and under the blue and yellow flag."

Olaf Scholz "does not agree with the pope on this question," German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit told reporters on March 11. "Ukraine is defending itself against an aggressor."

German Defense Minister Annalena Baerbock told a German talk show on the evening of March 10 that she did not understand the Pope's remarks.  

"I think you can only understand some things if you see them yourself," Baerbock said, referencing that she has visited Ukraine multiple times since the start of the full-scale invasion.

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"We must stand by Ukraine and do everything we can to ensure that it can defend itself," Baerbock said.

"Surrender is not peace," Stoltenberg remarked during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to mark Sweden's accession into the alliance on March 11.

"We must continue to strengthen Ukraine to show (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that he will not get what he wants on the battlefield but must sit down and negotiate a solution where Ukraine is recognized and prevails as a sovereign, independent nation," Stoltenberg said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis appeared to reference the Pope's comments when he posted on X about "20 Days in Mariupol," which won the Oscar for Best Documentary on March 10.

The film is "compulsory viewing for anyone who wants to know what Russian 'peace' looks like," Landsbergis wrote on March 11. "Watch it and understand why Ukraine will never give up."

Andrii Yurash, the ambassador of Ukraine to the Vatican, told Radio Svoboda on March 11 that the comments reflected Pope Francis' personal views and "do not reflect the position" of the Vatican.

Yurash added that the Pope has been invited to Ukraine multiple times. Zelensky met Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican in May 2023.

In a statement released following the publication of the interview, the director of the Vatican Press Office, Matteo Bruni, clarified that the Pope didn't call for Ukraine's surrender, but for a ceasefire and negotiations. "His hope is a diplomatic solution for a just and lasting peace," Bruni said.

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