Vatican diplomats still hope to play a leading role in the attempts to settle the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
A first sign of the renewed interest by certain chancelleries for diplomatic activity by the Holy See in Eastern Europe came from the French Head of State. On October 24, 2022, Emmanuel Macron was received - for the third time since his election in 2017 – by the Sovereign Pontiff.
The opportunity for the President of the French Republic to ask the head of the Catholic Church to redouble his efforts in favor of peace in Ukraine: “I encouraged Pope Francis to call Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, but also Joe Biden,” he told the weekly Le Point, after his interview with Pope Francis.
Because, for the host of the Elysée Palace, “we need the United States to come to the table to promote the peace process in Ukraine.… However, Joe Biden has, with the Pope, a real relationship of trust. The pope can have an influence on him,” he said, implying a certain diplomatic tension with the Biden administration.
And for good reason: Pope Francis, although he condemned the military intervention of the Russian Federation and the bombardments of Ukrainian soil, has relatively spared the head of the Kremlin, facilitating a possible diplomatic window for a ceasefire.
The day after the statement by the French head of state, another signal was sent by the Kremlin press attaché, who let it be known that Vladimir Putin would not be opposed to mediation by the Vatican: “We are ready to discuss all this (the situation in Ukraine) with the Americans, with the French, and with the pontiff. Russia is open to all contacts,” Dimitri Peskov said.
Shortly afterwards, the Holy See's Secretary of State welcomed Moscow's openness in an interview with the Italian media: “It is positive to see this kind of openness, and even if it is still rather vague, it could be achieved if all aspects of the situation are taken into account: this means that it is possible to talk to each other,” rejoiced Cardinal Piero Parolin.
Moreover, we understand, through the words of Cardinal Parolin, that the United States has little taste for the idea of a mediation involving the Holy See, and even France, which is not new.
Thus, in answer to a journalist’s question, “Have you been able to speak to President Biden?” the Secretary of State replied: “No, we have not been able to speak to him, we did send him the pope’s message of peace,…but we have not yet received an answer from him.”
Is it going to far to wonder whether the Biden administration would not, in reality, be more concerned with continuing its standoff with Moscow at a distance through a proxy country – weakening Europe in the process and making it ever more dependent on American energy and markets – rather than silencing the sound of guns?
But nothing has been decided at this time. The game of chess continues, and the situation seems to want to bring a certain number of Western chancelleries back to a greater pragmatism.
One thing remains certain: Vatican diplomacy is far from having said its last word.