Pope Francis: ‘World War III’ gives arms dealers opportunity, Ukraine invasion ‘very complex’ situation

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Pope Francis urged more nuance in discussions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, insisting that people are too quick to create “good guy” and “bad guy” labels for a complex global situation that is tantamount to an ongoing “World War III.”

“A few years ago, it occurred to me to say that we are experiencing a third world war fought piecemeal,” the pope told editors of news outlet La Civilta Cattolica. “Today, for me, World War III has been declared.”

The pope’s wide-ranging conversation with the Cattolica editorial board, released Tuesday, acknowledged the atrocities in Ukraine, but the pope cautioned that many people “miss the whole drama … unfolding behind this war.” 

“What we are seeing is the brutality and ferocity with which this war is being carried out by the troops, generally mercenaries, used by the Russians,” Pope Francis said. “In reality, the Russians prefer to send forward Chechens, Syrians, mercenaries.” 

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The pope referred to the possibility that the war was “either provoked or not-prevented,” and that there was “interest in testing and selling weapons.” 

“Someone may say to me at this point: But you are pro-Putin! No, I am not,” the pope insisted. “It would be simplistic and erroneous to say such a thing.”

“I am simply against turning a complex situation into a distinction between good guys and bad guys, without considering the roots and self-interests, which are very complex,” he argued. 

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The pope also spent time praising the “brave” Ukrainian people who are “struggling to survive and have a history of conflict.” 

But he related the Ukraine invasion to other conflicts around the world, such as in some parts of Africa “where war is ongoing and no one cares.” 

“Think of Rwanda 25 years ago. Think of Myanmar and the Rohingya,” he said. “The world is at war.”

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“What is happening to humanity that has had three world wars in a century?” he added. “I experienced the first war through the memory of my grandfather on the Piave River, then the second and now the third, and this is bad for humanity, a calamity.”

The Pope laid the blame on weapons manufacturers and arms dealers, whom he claimed were happy to see their products tested in conflict. 

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“What is before our eyes is a situation of world war, global interests, arms sales, and geopolitical appropriation, which is martyring a heroic people.”