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Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at the Vatican in 2015. RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has expressed his desire to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and has blamed NATO and the West for facilitating the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.  

During a May 3 interview with Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Pope Francis said that he was “ready to meet” the Russian president but feared that Putin is not able or willing to meet with him at this point.  

For the first time, the Pontiff blamed NATO and the West for being partially responsible for the ongoing conflict between the two Eastern European nations. 

Until his Tuesday interview with Corriere Della Sera, Pope Francis had seemed to blame Russia, albeit indirectly, for the war in Ukraine. He has condemned Putin’s so-called “military operation” on multiple occasions.  

During a March 13 Sunday blessing, for instance, the Pontiff described the invasion as an “unacceptable armed aggression,” though he avoided mentioning Russia or Putin by name, in line with the Vatican’s  foreign policy. 

Now, for the first time since the beginning of the war, the Pontiff has also criticized the West for its contribution to the ongoing conflict, accusing NATO of “barking at Russia’s gate.”  

Asked to comment on Putin’s motives, Francis said he had “no way of telling whether his rage has been provoked” but that his actions may have been “facilitated by the West’s attitude.” 

The pope then discussed his various efforts to appease the conflict between the two nations, recalling that when war first broke out, he first contacted President Zelensky of Ukraine.  

“The first day of the war I called the Ukrainian president, Volodomyr Zelensky, on the phone. But I didn’t call Putin,” Francis recalled. 

Instead, the earthly head of the Church made an unconventional visit to the Russian embassy in Rome.  

“It was meant to be a clear gesture for the whole world to see,” Francis explained. 

The Pope also recalled that “about twenty days into the war” he asked the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to tell the Kremlin that he was “ready to travel to Moscow.” 

“For sure, I was waiting for some kind of opening gesture from the Kremlin leader,” said Francis, adding that the Vatican “received no answer whatsoever” despite “pressing them on this issue.” 

“I fear, however, that Putin cannot, or does not want to, agree to our meeting at the moment,” Francis lamented.  

The 85-year-old Pontiff has also been communicating with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, known for his defence of President Putin and his military operation in Ukraine.  

Francis said he had a 40-minute-long discussion with Kirill during which the Russian Patriarch attempted to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  

“I listened to him and then replied: ‘I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not state clerics, we shouldn’t speak the language of politics, but rather the language of Jesus,’” said Francis. 

The pope also warned Kirill not to “lower himself by becoming Putin’s altar boy.” 

The two churchmen were due to meet in Jerusalem in June, but that meeting was cancelled after both agreed that “it could send an ambiguous signal.” 

In addition to attempting to appease the conflict diplomatically, Francis has also called for prayer for a quick end to the war. On March 25, he consecrated both Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in a special penitential ceremony in Saint Peter’s Basilica.