Pope Francis

Exiled Group Uniting Russia’s Non-Russian Ethnic Groups Protest Pope’s Comments

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The Free Nations League, an exiled group representing some of the dozens of non-Russian ethnic groups inside Russia, has sent a letter to Pope Francis protesting against his recent comments calling Chechens and Buryats “perhaps the cruelest” in Moscow’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

In the letter, the Free Nations League calls the statement by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church “humiliating, offensive, and unproven.”

In an interview with the Jesuit publication America published on November 28, Francis answered a question about the war in Ukraine by saying: “When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in.

Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia, but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on. Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state.”

The Free Nations League did not demand an apology from the pontiff but instead recommended he become better acquainted with examples of cruelty by “the carriers of the Russian tradition” against Chechens and Buryats, a reference to “war crimes” committed against Chechens during Russian-Chechen wars in the 1990s, the “institutionalized assimilation of Buryats,” and their disproportionate mobilization in the war in Ukraine.

The letter also urged Francis to “look at what Russian tradition is doing in Ukraine if examples of faraway Muslims and Buddhists are alien and unclear for you.”

“Is it Buryats and Chechens who order the shelling of civilian targets, bomb maternity clinics and hospitals? Is it us who kidnap and forcibly take to Russia hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and conduct deportations within the occupied territories? Look into the eyes of that tradition — those are Russian eyes,” the letter says.

Representatives of Buryat, Chechen, Kalmyk, Tatar, Bashkir, Yakut, Erzya, Moksha, Cossack, and Ingermanland movements signed the letter.

Francis, who has been an outspoken critic of the war, has also been criticized by Russian officials, who reportedly lodged a protest in connection with the statements made in the interview.

The Vatican has not officially commented on the controversy surrounding the pontiff’s remarks.

Russia’s state-controlled TASS news agency quoted a source in the Vatican as saying that “there was no intention to offend Russia’s peoples” and that “the interview’s interpretations and translations will be checked.”

With reporting by TASS

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