The Vatican

Vatican diplomacy in the Ukrainian war

Vatican mediation in the war in Ukraine is complex, but three levels can be distinguished. The classic diplomatic route, the personal action and follow-up of the Holy Father and the promotion of humanitarian aid.

Andrea Gagliarducci-July 1, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: rescue work at the Ukrainian shopping mall attacked on June 28. ©CNS/Anna Voitenko, Reuters

Translation of the article into English

The news that the Russian Federation would be ready to accept the mediation of the Holy See in the Ukrainian conflict was communicated for the first time last June 13. It was made public by Alexei Paramonov, director of the first European department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in declarations to the governmental agency Ria Novosti. But that the situation was more complex than the most optimistic media thought is attested to by the fact that, after that opening, there was no more news for a fortnight. What are you doing? the Holy See's diplomacy for Ukraine? In the end, there are three levels of activity, three diplomatic channels open, in various ways, in the hope of being effective.

The diplomatic route

The first channel is diplomatic. Statements to Ria Novosi were, in any case, a remarkable change of pace, that "small window" that Pope Francis had said he was looking for in an interview granted to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera May 3. In summary, Paromonov stated that the Holy See has not only repeatedly declared its readiness to mediate, but that "these remarks are confirmed in practice." Russia maintains with the Holy See "an open and trusting dialogue on a number of issues, primarily related to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine." This last part links mediation primarily to the humanitarian aspect, and makes it clear that Russia does not want to change its position one iota. It is a complex dialogue. 

But the Holy See knows this. Diplomatic activity and exchange of information are intense. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Minister for Relations with States, was in Ukraine from May 18-21, on a trip that took him not only to meet with Ukrainian state leaders, but also to experience the war situation up close, with a visit to the martyred cities of Bucha and Vorzel. 

It is no coincidence, therefore, that immediately after the note disseminated by Ria NovostiArchbishop Gallagher spoke clearly about what can and cannot be accepted regarding the situation in Ukraine. Thus, on June 14, on the sidelines of a colloquium on migration held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, he stated that one must "resist the temptation to accept compromises on the territorial integrity of Ukraine." Archbishop Gallagher had reiterated the same concept from Kiev, on May 20, when he said that the Holy See "defends the territorial integrity of Ukraine". 

Following the Pope

This is the position of the Holy See at the diplomatic level. Then there is the second channel, which is that of Pope Francis. Pope Francis' diplomacy seems to work on a parallel track, and engages him personally. When the war broke out, the Pope wanted to personally visit the embassy of the Russian Federation, in an unprecedented gesture (heads of state summon ambassadors, not the other way around) that was not matched by a similar initiative for the Ukrainian embassy. He then sent Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Pope's almoner, and Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, to see the situation, coordinate humanitarian aid and be the Pope's arm. 

Moreover, he did not fail to give his opinion on the matter. In a conversation with the editors of Jesuit magazines around the world on May 19, Pope Francis had recounted that a "not very talkative and very wise" head of state, with whom he had met in January, had expressed his concern about NATO's attitude, explaining that "they are barking at Russia's doorstep and do not understand that the Russians are imperial and do not allow any foreign power to come near them." The Pope also added that he wanted to "avoid reducing the complexity between good guys and bad guys." 

First-hand information

What then is Pope Francis' diplomatic key? Perhaps there simply isn't, because the Pope's point of view is mainly concerned with humanitarian aid. To the editors of Jesuit magazines, Pope Francis has asked them to study geopolitics, because that is their task, but at the same time to remember to highlight the "human drama" of war.

In order for the Pope to learn more about the situation, Father Alexander, an Argentine friend of the Pope, organized a meeting in Santa Marta with two of his friends, Yevhen Yakushev, from Mariupol, and Denys Kolyada, a consultant for dialogue with religious organizations, who had brought with him Myroslav Marynovych, his personal friend.

The meeting took place on June 8 and lasted 45 minutes. Marynovych said that "we talked about the fact that Russia uses both weapons and false information," to the extent that Ukraine, even from the Vatican, was seen mainly through the Russian prism, and that it was unfair to look at the offended "through the prism of the aggressor's information propaganda." On the contrary, Marynovych called on the Pope to "develop his own Ukrainian policy, not derived from Russian policy." 

These are words that should be read against the grain, and that refer more personally to the Pope than to the diplomacy of the Holy See, certifying a kind of "two-speed diplomacy" towards Ukraine.

The humanitarian field

Finally, there is the third channel, which is the humanitarian channel. We have already mentioned the two cardinals sent by Pope Francis. Then there is the extraordinary commitment launched in the field. On June 22, speaking at the meeting of Works for Aid to the Eastern Churches, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, detailed the commitment of Caritas and the parishes, traditionally the places where people go for help. 

Ukraine is divided into three zones: the conflict zone, where the first aid is provided; the zone bordering the fighting sites and which is the first reception point for refugees fleeing from both east and west (there are 6 million emigrants and 8 million displaced persons); and the relatively calm zone in western Ukraine, from where aid is organized. 

A new Vatican currency

The latest support initiative is a special medal minted by the Vatican Mint, the proceeds of which are being used to finance aid to Ukraine. The first run of 3,000 copies sold out immediately and 2,000 more are being minted. This is a sign that there is not only attention, but also a willingness to do. 

Now it remains to be seen whether these three avenues of Vatican diplomacy will lead to concrete results. The Pope has made it known that he wants to go to Moscow and then to Kiev. However, it would be good if his appeals were heard first.

The authorAndrea Gagliarducci

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