The Vatican Press Office confirmed on December 15, 2022 that the Holy See had indeed apologized to the Russian Federation, due to remarks made by Pope Francis a few days earlier, and that the Kremlin had not been slow in label them as “Russophobes.”
The communication boss of the smallest state in the world, Matteo Bruni, had to urgently adjust the Vatican's reaction to the press release from the Russian Presidency claiming to have received an apology from the Holy See for the remarks made by Pope Francis at the end of last November.
The Pontiff affirmed in an interview granted to America magazine that some of the “most cruel” fighters in the Russian offensive in Ukraine “are not of Russian tradition,” but belong to minorities such as “the Chechens and the Buryats,” in reference to the indigenous peoples living within the Russian Federation.
This slip of the tongue caused an outcry on the banks of the Moskva, and did not contribute to restoring the image of the Roman Church in the eyes of some Russians.
Kremlin spokeswoman Maria Zakharova even unleashed her indignation on social networks: “At this stage, it is more than Russophobia, it is perversion.” More measured, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mocked the “un-Christian” behavior of the Successor of Peter.
One of Vladimir Putin's right-hand men, Ramzan Kadyrov, also quipped: “The Pope presented the Chechens and the Buryats as the most cruel in the Russian army. How can we guess, just by looking at it, what ethnicity comes from such a Russian soldier in such a unit, when more than 190 ethnic groups populate our country?”
Also, Matteo Bruni had no other choice on December 15 than to confirm the statement put forward by the Russian presidency: “At the moment I can confirm that there have been diplomatic contacts in this direction.”
The Kremlin has clarified that the apologies consist of an official declaration by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, and number two of the Vatican.
The governor of Buryatia - a region targeted by the Pope's remarks - welcomed the response of the Holy See. “In this context of Western hysteria, the official apology of the Holy See constitutes a strong gesture,” said Alexei Cydenov.
This is not the first time that the current Roman Pontiff has spoken in an improvised or very free way (especially when traveling by plane), thus putting pressure on the diplomatic services of the Holy See.
This time, the consequences are perhaps more dramatic. The Vatican had in fact reiterated several days ago its proposal for mediation in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a proposal bluntly rejected by Moscow, and considered as unacceptable in the context of recent weeks.