giovedì 18 maggio 2023

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi (to Kyiv) and Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti (to Moscow): here is the Pope's peace "mission" to find an agreement that allows for a truce and the beginning of dialogue between Ukraine and Russia.

Presidents Zelensky and Putin, each agreed to talks with the Holy Father's two special envoys, to discuss and achieve a truce. The preliminary issues are very complex and, so far, progress appears to be very limited. In recent weeks, however, some important scenarios have changed.

(L.B., R.C. – by Editors of "Il Sismografo") Since Pope Francis surprisingly announced the existence of a peace "mission" to bring an end to the Russian war against Ukraine, only 17 days have passed (and not months as one might think if one takes into account the rather dizzying evolution of the story in this short period of time). In almost three weeks many important things have changed, both in the reality of the conflict on the ground and in the possible ways to find a peace solution today. Many analyses and hypotheses formed in the first days of May are already outdated. Some new facts that have changed the outlook from a few weeks ago: China's entry into the field with an envoy of the highest level, Li Hui, who has already visited Kyiv; a two-month renewal of the wheat agreement; the arrival of technologically superior war material; Zelensky's visit to Italy to meet President Matarella, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and Pope Francis, a stage in the strategic European tour of the Ukrainian President (Rome, Berlin, Paris and London); the umpteenth visit of Ursula von der Leyen to Kyiv. All these recent events render even more inscrutable the uncertainty about the "mission" [of peace] announced by the Holy Father on the plane that brought him back to Italy from Hungary, on April 30th.
Pope Francis on the plane
Returning from Budapest after a three-day visit, the Pontiff said: "Everyone is interested in the path of peace. I am willing, I am willing to do whatever needs to be done. Even now a mission is underway, but not yet it's public, we’ll see ... When it's public, then I'll speak about it." (source)
Why did the Pontiff express himself in this way on the plane?
Because messages had already been exchanged, through the respective [Vatican] diplomatic missions, asking Kyiv and Moscow to consider the possibility of receiving papal envoys to discuss the possibility of initiating negotiations toward a truce. The two governments, in an reply, declared their availability in principle. At the same time, they posed some important questions: in the first place, they asked to clarify whether there would be two envoys, one to each country, or only one envoy; the parties also requested the identity of any envoys, which would enable them to construct a biographical profile of the papal representative(s). For Moscow and Kyiv, the names of those people are considered of the utmost importance. At this junction, there are preliminary agreements on the names of Cardinal Matteo Zuppi (to Kyiv) [1] and Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti (to Moscow) [2], but it has not been confirmed that these names are definitive. Both must still be approved.
Pope Francis specifically referred to this when, on April 30, on the plane, he said: "Now a mission is underway, but it's not public yet, we’ll see... When it's public, I'll speak about it."
In its proposal, the Holy See asked the parties for "absolute confidentiality" from the outset and did so with justified insistence.
Perhaps the Pope should not have made any reference to a "not-public mission" but it is his right to act as he deems necessary and appropriate.
The fact is that a few hours after Francis' words, almost identical denials arrived from Moscow and Kyiv (May 1st): "We are not aware of anything". Actually, through their own channels, Russia and Ukraine, Putin and Zelensky, were aware of the first steps of the "mission" but the instinctive reaction was to admit that they 'know nothing'. We do not know Kyiv and Moscow’s reasons but, in concrete terms, it seems that the respective diplomatic apparatuses wanted to comply with the Vatican's request: to maintain "absolute and maximum confidentiality".
Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s Clarifications
The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, felt it necessary to clarify some [papal] utterances that have created confusion by sending certain messages to the Russian and Ukrainian diplomats, with elegance and humility.
Wednesday, May 3rd
On May 3rd, Cardinal Parolin explained: "The Pope said that there will be a mission which will be announced when it is public, and I repeat the same expression that he used. I won't go into details. The Pope spoke in those terms and we leave it to him to give any further information." The Cardinal said he was surprised by the fact that both Kyiv and Moscow had said they knew nothing and then emphasized: "The parties were informed at the time. In the middle of the bureaucratic maze, communications may not reach their destination. But this is only my interpretation, I know that both sides have been informed”. (source)
Wednesday, May 10th
The Cardinal Secretary of State returned to the question of the "mission" to reiterate that the Vatican was wanted to move forward: "I truly believe that it will go on", he specified and then added: "Yes, there is news but naturally on a confidential level. However, I believe that it has been clarified and I believe that it will continue". On the declarations of Moscow and Kyiv, when the two countries said they knew nothing a few days ago, the Cardinal observed: "They have not denied it, they said they knew nothing but then both sides were contacted and it was clarified that it had been a misunderstanding, a misunderstanding". (source)
Mystery solved but the mission is uphill
This generous effort by Vatican diplomacy, at the behest of the Pope, has been in the works for several weeks. As already mentioned, this month, various aspects of the crisis have changed considerably. So, the main question must be based on an indisputable fact: is working for a truce the most realistic path today?
The parties and experts are very perplexed
The two main perplexities are from Kyiv, which does not accept any truce because it considers it a "freeze" (of the military situation), which favours the territorial conquests by Russia. Moscow, for its part, sees the truce-freeze with sympathy because it wouldn’t have to retreat, it wouldn’t have to fight and, what's more, it could catch its breath. In short, the truce, with each passing day, from April 30 to today, becomes increasingly difficult to propose with any chance of success.
Then, President Zelensky, who always stressed that defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity is his first priority (an immensely complicated issue!) – is now facing another obstacle that he must vigorously oppose: in the realm of internal and international public opinion, and perhaps also of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Kremlin can subtly insinuate that they are secretly negotiating with Kyiv. Lately, several experts sensed that Putin's would be available for this "mission" (for the first time in 15 months of war) to breech Ukrainian internal unity.
At this point it seems likely that, for now, the "mission" is bogged down. The words of the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to Chinese Envoy Li Hui, about non-negotiable territorial integrity, were meant to be peremptory.
Parolin: without Ukraine nothing is possible
In this new context we have yesterday’s statement by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in Reykjavik, Iceland, at the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe. Parolin’s words are fresh and relevant because they represent an alteration in the Vatican's perspective on the conflict. The Cardinal said: "Together with Pope Francis we should ask, together with Ukraine, how to create peace. We cannot passively accept that a war of aggression continues in that country. It is the Ukrainian people who are dying and suffering. It is time to take initiatives to create a just peace in Ukraine and in all so-called grey areas in Europe. I guarantee you that the Holy See will continue to do its part." (source)
[1] Archbishop of Bologna, Italy; President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI)
[2] Archbishop, Vatican; Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches