Russian effort to support Pope Francis for Nobel Peace Prize amid Russia’s war

Russian networks are working to nominate Pope Francis for the Nobel, according to the media Intelligence Online. 

This initiative is carried from Moscow. The World Union of Old Believers, which maintains mixed relations with the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church, has joined forces with journalist Dmitri Muratov, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to have the Vatican monarch nominated for the prestigious prize, the Intelligence Online claims.

In 2021, the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, chief editor of the leading independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, shared the prize with the Philippines’ Maria Ressa for their fight for freedom of expression in their respective countries.

Nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023

There are 305 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2023, of which 212 are individuals, and 93 are organizations, the official website says.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is accountable for selecting the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. A nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize may be submitted by any person qualified to nominate.

The Nobel Committee does not officially comment on the list of candidates nominated for the Nobel Prize. According to the regulation of the award, these data are kept secret for at least 50 years.

Those who have the right to nominate people (former laureates, legislators and ministers, professors) can disclose the name of the person or organization they nominated.

Russia-Ukraine war influenced Peace Prize nominations

The Russia-Ukraine war is much present in the Nobel peace prize nominations for the second year in a row. Many of the names publicly disclosed so far are related to Russia’s war that has been raging in Ukraine or opponents of Russian dictator Putin.

The list of nominees includes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was nominated by the speaker of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament for his efforts to settle the war in Ukraine.

Norwegian MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of Norway’s populist party, proposed the candidacy of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 

“Stoltenberg deserves the prize for his exemplary work as NATO secretary general at a difficult time for the alliance: a brutal and unprovoked offensive against a peaceful neighboring country”, he wrote in a statement.

Norwegian MP Lan Marie Berg announced that she had nominated ecological activist Greta Thunberg.

Others known to have been nominated are jailed Putin opponents – anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, jailed in Russia, and journalist and political activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been jailed for 25 years in prison by a Moscow court. He received the verdict for several charges, including “high treason” in a context of all-out repression by Putin’s regime amid the war in Ukraine.

Why does Russia benefit from promoting the Pope?

How do Francis’ “peace initiatives” fit into Moscow’s narrative?

The Russian regime benefits from promoting Pope Francis’ peace comments because they do not denounce the aggressor and do not address the subject of Russian invaders’ responsibility for war crimes. Thus, in Ukraine, the Pope’s declarations are seen as pro-Russian.

The pontiff’s words are about talks and abstract peace, with no conditions included, such as the withdrawal of Russian invading forces from Ukrainian lands. As a result, the aggressor’s right to launch military aggression against other countries to seize territories may be acknowledged in this approach. And that suits Russia’s agenda.

Almost all media outlets in civilized countries cover the Russian assault on Ukraine and the war crimes perpetrated. Simultaneously, Russian international propaganda media have been banned. Moscow has lost its propaganda war. Putin’s war has been strongly denounced in European societies. 

As a result, the Kremlin’s only option is to promote pseudo-pacifist initiatives that will allow it to keep the seized territories in Ukraine and ease the responsibility for the cruel war. And to promote such initiatives, Moscow requires the support of high-ranking officials.

The Pope’s Peace prayer

During the Easter Mass, the Catholic Church’s leader prayed for peace for Ukrainians. The Pope, on the other hand, did not forget about the people of the aggressor state, which has been waging war against Ukraine.

Pope Francis presided over a liturgy in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square. He urged God to help the Ukrainian people in his speech to the faithful.

“Help every Ukrainian people on the road to peace and pour out the Easter light on the Russian people. Comfort the wounded and those who have lost loved ones as a result of the war, and ensure that prisoners of war return safely to their families,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope also urged the international community to “open their hearts” to attempts to stop the war and “all conflicts that are bloodying the world.”

On April 7, the Way of the Cross was held in Rome. On it, the Vatican decided to “unite” the victim and the aggressor again. It was intended that Ukrainian and Russian adolescents would carry the cross at one of the stations.

Ukraine’s reaction to the Vatican’s “peace” initiatives

Oleh Nikolenko, the spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that Ukraine is grateful to Pope Francis for his concern for Ukrainian citizens. However, the Holy See has attempted to “unite” the victim and the assailant during the procession for the second year in a row, according to him. Ukraine is disappointed that the Vatican has once again ignored Kyiv’s arguments about the offensiveness of such a gesture.

“Unfortunately, this year’s procession in Rome was once again overshadowed by an attempt to equate the victim and the aggressor,” said Oleh Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry. In 2022, Ukrainian and Russian citizens walked a symbolic cross together during the Stations of the Cross.

Texts were read aloud on behalf of Ukrainian and Russian teenagers on the 10th station. The first was the story of a boy from Mariupol, destroyed by the Russian invaders, who, together with his family, found refuge in Italy. The second one was about a Russian boy whose brother was killed in the war and whose father and grandfather went missing. 

These Russian men invaded Ukraine and started the war, which brought deaths and destruction. Attempts to compare Ukrainians suffering from aggression with Russian aggressors, according to Nikolenko, do not help in reconciliation.

During more than one year of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Pope’s statements have repeatedly caused controversy and criticism in Ukraine. Last summer, Francis stated that Daria Dugin, the daughter of Kremlin neo-fascist ideologue Alexander Dugin, who was blown up in the Moscow region, was an “innocent victim of war.” However, Dugin is believed to have publicly called for “killing, killing, and killing Ukrainians” in 2014. Following the crisis, the Vatican stated that the Pope’s statements should be taken as a voice of values rather than a political stance.

During one of his Vatican audiences at the end of last year, Francis stated that the war in Ukraine could not be handled “with the infantile logic of weapons” and appealed for dialogue. “I am struck by the cruelty that is not characteristic of the Russian people,” the pontiff continued, “because the Russian people are a great people.” This is the savagery of mercenaries, troops who go to battle for the thrill of it… I want to think of it this way because I admire the Russian people and humanism.” After the pontiff’s provocative statements, Ukraine’s envoy to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash, remarked that visiting Ukraine is enough to comprehend the consequences of Russian “humanism.”

In reaction to the Pope’s remarks, some religious scholars argue that the Church should return to classical moral theology, which distinguished between good and evil, did not equate the victim with the aggressor, and did not hold the victim responsible for the war. Such words by the Pope infuriate Ukrainians, conceal the facts about Russia’s war and are not in favor of peace. Thus, it would be unfair to award the Nobel Peace Prize to them alone.

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