VATICAN CITY, Feb 14 (Reuters) – Ukraine is open to a Vatican mediation of its conflict with Russia and wants Pope Francis to visit as soon as possible, even in the current situation, Kyiv’s new ambassador to the Holy See said on Monday.
Speaking to Reuters in a telephone interview from Kyiv, Andriy Yurash, said the Vatican was considering its response to invitations from both political and Catholic Church officials in Ukraine for a visit.
Yurash, 53, noted that last April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told an Italian newspaper that the Vatican would be an ideal place for negotiating an end to the war in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014.
Yurash repeated Kyiv’s openness to a Vatican mediation, amid an international standoff over Russia’s deployment of more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine. It denies planning an invasion but many Western countries expect one and have told their citizens to leave.
“As I understand it, the Vatican would be ready and happy to create this possibility for meeting leaders from both sides,” said Yurash, the former head of the Department on Religious Affairs and Nationalities at Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture.
“Ukraine is completely in favor of (using) this very influential, very spiritual place for a meeting. If Russia confirms its will to sit at the table, immediately Ukraine will respond in a positive way,” he said.
The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent decades, the Vatican has been involved in mediations between factions in South Sudan, between Chile and Argentina over a territorial dispute and also mediated a rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.
Ukraine is predominately Orthodox Christian but about 10% of the population belong to the Eastern Catholic Church, whose followers use Byzantine religious rites but are in allegiance with Rome.
In 2018 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split into two, with one declaring independence from the Russian Orthodox Church and the other keeping ties to Moscow.
The newly appointed ambassador, who is due to arrive in Italy this month, repeated a standing invitation made by Ukraine’s political Catholic leaders for the pope to visit. Read full story
“All world leaders are visiting Ukraine,” he said. “(A papal visit) will have a very great impact for the development of the situation.”
“Ukraine would be very happy to see the pope even now because we are absolutely sure that we are controlling our borders. We are controlling the situation inside the country and we will be ready to protect everyone,” he said.
Moscow is pressing for guarantees from the United States and NATO that include blocking Ukraine’s entry into NATO, refraining from missile deployments near Russia’s borders and scaling back NATO’s military infrastructure in Europe to 1997 levels.
Washington regards many of the proposals as non-starters but has pushed the Kremlin to discuss them jointly with Washington and its European allies.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by William Maclean)