Pope Francis apparently has bought into the Russian war narrative and is crassly attempting to sell it as a moral imperative. In comments recorded earlier in February during a just-released interview with Swiss public broadcaster RSI, the pontiff urged Ukraine to find “the courage of the ‘white flag’ and negotiate an end to the war with Russia.”

That is not going to happen.

The Bishop of Rome is misguided. Imploring Ukrainians to commit national suicide and in doing so subject its people to cultural genocide at the hands of the Kremlin is morally wrong. Capitulating to Moscow would be on the wrong side of humanity – and as NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg rebuked: “Surrender is not peace.”

Ukraine is already in the Lion’s Den, and Kyiv is intent on fighting its way out. Now is not a time for white flags. It is time to take the fight to Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his generals are heeding the sage advice of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who once said: “You cannot negotiate peace with someone who has come to kill you.”


The Pontiff has seemingly fallen for a common misconception about the war in Ukraine – and an oft-repeated Russian narrative – that the Ukrainian counteroffensive failed, and the Russian army is steadily marching towards Kyiv.

That is hardly the case.

Ukraine wisely transitioned out of a counteroffensive mode along the war’s front lines in Avdiivka, Bakhmut, and Kupyansk. Western delays in ammunition and armaments alongside weakening NATO resolve, forced Kyiv to prudently assume a defensive posture.

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German Foreign Minister Criticises Pope on Ukraine

The pope sparked a furore at the weekend after saying in an interview on Swiss television that one should "have the courage to raise the white flag and negotiate."

Moscow was forced to do the same in late 2022 after losing substantially more ground to Kyiv. According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces lost nearly 50 percent of sovereign Ukrainian territory that Moscow had initially captured in the opening months.

By contrast, over the last month, Ukraine has only tactically withdrawn from a few square miles over a 600-mile front line – and Russia’s advance has stalled as a result of Kyiv strengthening its defensive lines.


The Ukrainian military did not surrender and their positions were not overrun, they simply conducted a withdrawal operation – a planned retrograde operation in which a force in contact disengages from an enemy force and moves in a direction away from the enemy – and transitioned into a mobile defense, a defensive task that focuses on defeating or destroying the enemy by allowing enemy forces to advance to a point where they are exposed to a decisive counterattack by the striking force.

The action Zelensky and his generals undertook enabled Ukraine to live and fight another day – and they will.

The bigger picture

Pope Francis and other would-be defeatists also need to see the bigger picture. What Kyiv ran out of was momentum and candidly – NATO support. But Zelensky’s counteroffensive did not fail. Rather, Kyiv’s Crimean counteroffensive is on hold due to a Western-imposed arms and ammunition purgatory.

It is also on hold due to the reality that the enemy always gets a vote, and Putin did just that when he launched his massive counteroffensive to retake the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region on Oct. 9 – just two days after Hamas launched a terrorist attack into Israel, slaughtering upwards of 1,140 people and taking another 240 hostage.


By the time Ukrainian defenders tactically abandoned their defensive positions in the town over four months later, Putin’s Army had lost “47,186 troops, 364 tanks and 748 armored fighting vehicles.” According to Forbes magazine, “Russian tank losses just around Avdiivka amount to potentially more than a tenth of all the tanks Russian forces have in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian military has become quite efficient in eliminating Russian soldiers from the battlefield – as of March 11 the number is 424,980. Consequently, any discussion of failure should be oriented towards the West and its inability to close the deal – to give Ukraine what it needs to expel Russia from the country.

But that is changing. Last week French President Emmanuel Macron put both NATO and Putin on notice with his comments proposing European soldiers in Ukraine, securing artillery ammunition for Ukraine with Czech Republic President Petr Pavel, and publicly challenging German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to not deploy the Taurus cruise missile to Ukraine. He went on to stress that a moment is approaching “in our Europe when it will be appropriate not to be a coward.”


Pope Francis should take note – and stop falling for Russian disinformation. What the Kremlin propaganda machine celebrated as a victory was simply occupying remnants of what used to be a town they destroyed over the course of 10 years. By all accounts the mobile defense emplaced by newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky, has effectively stalled the Russian offensive.

While the Russian offensive ground to a halt, Ukraine was also able to shoot down 15 Russian aircraft, sank the 1,300-ton Russian patrol ship Sergei Kotov in the Black Sea, and struck deep into the interior of Russia with their drones on multiple occasions.

Adding insult to Putin’s injury, Sweden formally joined NATO on March 7.

 The current situation looks and feels a lot like Bakhmut did 12 months ago. Ukraine is building combat power for another run at Crimea, but as Commander of the Joint Forces Oleksandr Pavliuk stated, “stabilizing the battlefield situation” is the first step – to stop the bleeding. The $60 billion Ukraine aid package stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would help.

Transitioning to the counteroffensive requires winning the close fight – and winning the close fight requires getting those 800,000 rounds of artillery ammunition the Czech-led initiative funded to the front lines.


But much to the dismay of Scholz and his Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, that also means concurrently interdicting Russian ground forces and their equipment before they arrive on the battlefield – in their assembly and staging areas, preferably before they arrive in Ukraine, on the Russian side of the border. To accomplish that requires additional precision deep strike capability – ATACMS, Taurus cruise missiles, and fighter jets.

Winning the close fight on a daily basis will not win the war – there are plenty more Russian bodies available to put into uniforms and Korean War vintage hardware available to sustain the Kremlin’s fight for at least two years, according to Lithuanian intelligence. Those not participating in the “meat assaults” – Putin, Sergey Lavrov, Sergei Shoigu, Dmitry Medvedev, and Dmitry Peskov – have patience, rhetoric, and control of the state run media, and they are okay with two more years of bloodletting.

Retaking Crimea is the only way for Kyiv to win the war – and securing peace in the Black Sea. Anything less and Putin eventually will come back to fight another day, just as he did in 2022 after not achieving all of his territorial aims in Ukraine in 2014.


To achieve this, Ukraine needs help. Macron’s efforts to rally European countries into action are beginning to have a positive effect as the United States and much Old NATO continues to sit on the sidelines. On Saturday, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski echoed the French President when he said that the presence of NATO forces “is not unthinkable.”

More will follow.

Ukraine needs solutions. Not more whining and hand wringing from Washington, Brussels, and Berlin – and especially not from Pope Francis in Rome. The Pontiff should send those white flags to Moscow – and then “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” to Ukraine just as the Atlantic allies did in the darkest days of World War II.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the authors’ and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post. 

Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Sweet served 30 years as a military intelligence officer.

Mark Toth writes on national security and foreign policy.

Copyright 2023. Jonathan E. Sweet and Mark C. Toth. All rights reserved.

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Comments (2)

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Francis should take a long hot shower using his Pope Soap on a Rope. That would give him time to think about his naivety and ignorance.

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The Pope was asked a question by a journalist who claimed that a debate about negotiations under a white flag were ongoing within Ukraine. The journalist was the source of the claim. Naturally the Pope, if he'd been a lawyer, should have asked for evidence of the claim! In the same interview he described Ukraine as a martyred nation.

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@John2, thank you for putting this in proper context. The two stupid journalists fail to do this and it’s disgraceful.