Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron during a private audience at the Vatican, October 2022. © Vatican media/IPA Agency/MaxPPP
Pope courts Macron to mediate negotiations with Moscow and Kyiv (link)
Eager to play the role of neutral mediator between the warring parties in Ukraine, Pope Francis entertains the idea of hosting negotiations at the Vatican which would be facilitated by the French president. The Kremlin appears receptive to the pontiff’s proposal.
December 12, 2022
By Intelligence Online (link)
Rumours that [French President] Emmanuel Macron hopes to win a Nobel Peace Prize in the event of a successful mediation between Russia and Ukraine have not fallen upon deaf years at the Vatican.
Pope Francis has made it known to his close advisers that he would like to see the French president invite Vladimir Putin to the Vatican for negotiations on what is hoped to be perceived as a neutral footing.
In Russia however, the pontiff created a stir last month. In an interview given to the Catholic magazine America (link), he condemned the “the cruelty of the troops that come in” and also pointed the finger at non-Russian troops fighting for the Kremlin: “Generally, the cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on.” [Note: These remarks by the Pope are more than halfway down in the published interviews.—RM]
While the Russian foreign affairs minister Sergei Lavrov reacted strongly to the pope’s words on 1 December, the powerful presidential administration (IO, 07/10/22) showed more calculated restraint: according to unofficial polls it regularly carries out (IO, 29/08/22), the Pope still enjoys a high rating among public opinion, while approval ratings for Putin has struggled to recover since late September when the emergency draft was introduced.
While Russian diplomacy reacted very critically to the pope’s comments, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov‘s response was more moderate thanks to intense efforts made internally to calm tensions, according to our sources. The president of Chechnya, who has become increasingly powerful in recent months (IO, 26/10/22) merely commented on his Telegram account that the Pope was “simply the victim of Western propaganda.”
The Pope is informed of the latest events in Ukraine by his Secretary for Relations with States Paul Richard Gallagher, who travels there [to Ukraine] regularly and is on good terms with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
In Moscow, the pontiff’s semi-official ambassador Leonid Sevastianov, president of the World Union of Old Believers (IO, 27/06/22) acts as a bridge between the Vatican and the presidential administration. In particular, Sevastianov entertains good relations with the team of Putin’s top aide, first deputy chief of staff Sergei Kirienko (IO, 05/07/22). Sevastianov knows him well for having been a consultant in public relations for the state company Rosatom when Kirienko was its CEO.
In Paris, the Pope liaises with his ambassador, Apostolic Nuncio Celestino Migliore. In private, Migliore protests about the leading role Sevastianov plays in Moscow. The Old Believer is not a nuncio, but an ad hoc spokesman by virtue of his close personal relations with the pope, who consequently entrusted him with this unofficial mission. Sevastianov is not a Catholic either, the Old Believers emanating from the Russian Orthodox Church which broke off following a schism in the 17th century. He was once close to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and the former head of Orthodox diplomacy, Metropolitan Hilarion (IO, 13/09/22) but he cut off all contact with these dignitaries following the ideological turn they made, first in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, then in 2016 with Russian involvement in Syria.
The pope’s controversial interview followed statements by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on 28 November in which he said that Ukraine was not ready to accept negotiations, including at the Vatican.
In the following days, various Russian officials confirmed the position that Russia would not accept negotiations under current conditions. An appeal to this effect by US President Joe Biden on 5 December went unheeded.
The president’s office however is pouring over different scenarios under which talks in the Vatican could take place, taking into account the military balance of power on the ground and the fallout from sanctions.
After the Pope’s idea to encourage Macron to invite the warring parties to the Holy See reached Russia’s presidential administration, Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov (IO, 20/04/22) made a comment at the press conference on 6 December which did not go unnoticed: according to him, the French president “talks a lot about maintaining contacts, dialogue with Putin, but does not take any concrete steps in this direction.”
The Anglican Church in Moscow
London for its part has its own peripheral channel for diplomatic communication on Ukraine at the Moscow parish of St. Andrew. On 30 November, the church celebrated St. Andrew’s day, a joint common to the UK and the Russian Orthodox faith, with a mass led by the Reverend Malcolm Rogers, followed by a buffet dinner.
Among the guests present were representatives of several religious movements — Orthodox priests, Catholics, Lutherans, Old Believers, as well as officials from the presidential administration and Moscow City Hall. British embassy staff who regularly visit the parish and sing in its choir, were also present. The sermon given about peace and unity was addressed primarily to Putin, Kirill and his deputy Metropolitan Anthony, all of whom have been towing a distinctly bellicose line since February.
[End, Intelligence Online article from 12/12/2022, today]