By Philip Pullella
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis suggested on Saturday that some countries were “playing games” with Ukraine by first providing weapons and then considering backing out of their commitments.
Francis made his comments aboard the plane returning from a trip to the French port city of Marseilles. He was responding to a reporter’s question about whether he was frustrated that his efforts to bring about peace had not succeeded. He has sent an envoy, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Kyiv, Moscow, Washington and Beijing to meet with leaders there.
He said he did feel “some frustration” and then began talking randomly about the arms industry and the war.
“It seems to me that the interests in this war are not just those related to the Ukrainian-Russian problem but to the sale of weapons, the commerce of weapons,” he said.
“We should not play games with the martyrdom of this people. We have to help them resolve things … I see now that some countries are moving backwards, not wanting to give (Ukraine) arms. A process is starting in which the martyr certainly will be the Ukrainian people and that is an ugly thing,” he said.
Asked for a clarification, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope was not taking a stand on whether countries should continue to send weapons to Ukraine or stop sending them.
“It was a reflection on the consequences of the arms industry: the pope, with a paradox, was saying that those who traffic in weapons never pay the consequences of their choices but leave them to be paid by people, like the Ukrainians, who have been martyred,” Bruni said.
A number of countries, including the United States, face internal political pressure to stop or curtail spending on weapons sent to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to U.S. lawmakers on Thursday for continued support amid doubts by some Republicans over whether Congress should approve more aid.
Francis has condemned the international arms trade in general but said last year that it is morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against Russian aggression.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Josie Kao and David Gregorio)