The Pope’s remarks that some minority groups of soldiers had acted worse than others during the invasion of Ukraine have drawn criticism from Russia.
According to Pope Francis, Chechens and Buryats are typically the “cruellest” soldiers.
He also referred to the 1930s Holodomor famine in Ukraine, which the Kremlin brought about, as a genocide.
Russia referred to the comments as “perversion” and claimed that all nationalities were “one family.”
In an interview with the Jesuit publication America, Pope Francis was questioned about his ostensible reluctance to express a strong condemnation of Russia for the conflict.
In response he said he received “much information about the cruelty of the troops”.
“Generally, the cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats and so on,” he said.
The Pope added that “the one who invades is the Russian state”.
Chechens, an ethnic group originating in Chechnya, in the south-west of Russia, are mostly Muslim.
Buryats, a Mongol ethnic group indigenous to Buryatia, in eastern Siberia, traditionally follow Buddhist and shamanic belief systems.
Russia contains many republics with distinct ethnic and religious groups.
The Pope said he had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky several times by phone, and communicated with Russian President Vladimir Putin through the ambassador to the Holy See.
In apparent response to accusations of not directly condemning President Putin, he said: “Sometimes I try not to specify so as not to offend and rather condemn in general, although it is well known whom I am condemning. It is not necessary that I put a name and surname.”
Later in the interview the Pope added: “Everyone knows my stance, with Putin or without Putin, without naming him.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova condemned the comments, state-controlled news outlet RT reports.
“This is no longer Russophobia, it’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name,” she said.
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