In Rome, Zelensky Pressures Pope

President asks Francis for a direct condemnation of Russian invasion
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2023 5:15 PM CDT
Zelensky Lobbies Pope, Italy's Leaders
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at Chigi Palace in Rome on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky went to Rome on Saturday to make a direct appeal to the pope to support his government's approach to achieving peace—after finding Francis' proposals unsettling. While there, Zelensky also met with Italy's president and prime minister, who offered enthusiastic backing. "We bet on the victory of Ukraine," said Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni after their meeting, per the New York Times. "Our support will be at 360 degrees for all the time necessary, and beyond." When Zelensky arrived, President Sergio Mattarella told him, "We are fully at your side." Italy has donated military and financial aid totaling more than $1 billion since the war began, per the AP, in addition to humanitarian aid.

Ukraine has been frustrated by Pope Francis' refusal to offer an explicit condemnation of Russia's invasion. Zelensky said he asked him to do that when they talked Saturday, per the Wall Street Journal, "because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor." In his tweet later, Zelensky added: "I also talked about our Peace Formula as the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace. I proposed joining its implementation." The pope has tried to keep from leaning much to one side or the other, apparently so he could serve as a go-between in peace talks. Ukrainian officials don't see that as helpful in their effort to drive Russia out or in achieving a lasting peace. The Vatican backs a cease-fire that wouldn't necessarily result in ending Russia's occupation in the east and south.

"We don't need an intermediary between Ukraine and the aggressor that occupied our territory," Zelensky said later on Italian TV. "We need an action plan for a just peace in Ukraine." A statement from the Vatican said the pope and the president discussed humanitarian and political issues in Ukraine but didn't say anything about a peace plan. The gifts exchanged before their talk may have signaled their perspectives: the pope gave Zelensky a bronze olive branch, while the president presented Francis with an icon of the Virgin Mary painted on body armor that was dented by Russian bullets. (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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