Pope Says Ukraine Should Have the ‘Courage of the White Flag’

Pope Francis has reiterated in a new interview that Ukraine should negotiate to end the war with Russia, but this time he used language — adopting his interviewer’s expression, “white flag” — that has drawn attention and raised questions about whether the pope was suggesting that Ukraine surrender.

On Saturday night, the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, immediately clarified that the pope meant “cease-fire and negotiation,” not surrender, when he said white flag, a universal symbol for giving up.

But the pope’s words and others he used during the interview have underscored how the Vatican has often bewildered Ukraine’s officials and supporters struggling to understand its position.

Early in the war, many Ukrainians expressed frustration with Francis for his refusal to specifically call out Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, as the aggressor in the conflict.

Francis eventually became more vocal in expressing support for what he came to call “martyred Ukraine,” citing Russia’s aggression and praying for Ukraine’s innocent victims. But the Vatican had also sought to avoid taking sides in the war, in part to preserve the possibility that it could be called on to negotiate a peace deal, a hope many geopolitical analysts consider delusional.

Francis used the term white flag in a television interview taped in February with the Swiss television channel RSI. The topic of the interview was the color white. An interviewer asked Francis if he believed that in Ukraine there was the need to “surrender, the white flag in this case,” or if such a capitulation would only legitimize the actions of strongmen.

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