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Pope’s Secretary of State meets Russian Foreign Minister at UN


NIKITA SHVETSOV | Anadolu Agency via AFP

John Burger - published on 09/23/22

Meeting comes amid Russian escalation in Ukraine, fear of nuclear weapons.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin called up some 300,000 reservists to bolster his war in Ukraine, the Vatican Secretary of State held an impromptu meeting with Putin’s foreign minister.

Vatican Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the annual gathering of world leaders in New York City. The Vatican did not issue a formal statement on the closed door meeting, but Vatican News opened its article about the meeting with a recent quote from Pope Francis, saying world leaders must always engage in dialogue, “because there is always the possibility that in dialogue we can change things.”

Those words, uttered on the Pope’s flight back to Rome from Kazakhstan last week, referred to the Holy See’s diplomatic mission, especially in regards to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, offered further proof of that guiding principle on Thursday, as he met with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister,” Vatican News declared. 

For its part, the Russian foreign ministry tweeted a video of Lavrov and Parolin shaking hands and exchanging greetings.

“We thank you for the suggestion to have this meeting,” Lavrov tells the cardinal. “We appreciate your efforts in this not-very-quiet time.”

To which the cardinal is heard to respond, “Unfortunately.”

Lavrov’s account

Before the video cuts off, Lavrov is heard expressing his appreciation for the cardinal’s efforts “to promote more stability, more justice and, of course, the rule of law.” 

In a statement published after the meeting, the Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov “made clear the reasons for the ongoing crisis in relations between Russia and the West” and blamed “NATO’s crusade to destroy Russia and split the world.”

Lavrov told Parolin that “the steps taken by Russia are designed to ensure independence and security, as well as to counter the United States’ hegemonic aspirations to control all global processes.”

UN Security Council tension

The air of diplomacy in Lavrov’s meeting with Cardinal Parolin were in contrast to a tense meeting of the UN Security Council, which Lavrov attended. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russian forces of torture and the killing of civilians in areas of Ukraine they had occupied, Lavrov counter-charged that Ukraine’s military killed civilians in the Russian-speaking areas of Eastern Ukraine “with impunity.” 

At that meeting as well, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Moscow’s plan to stage referendums on joining Russia in four occupied areas of Ukraine a “violation of the U.N. charter, and of international law and precedent.”

The referendums – in the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizka – are underway this weekend. Experts say that Russian annexation of those areas are designed to make Ukraine hesitant in continuing its attempt to liberate them, as it would be considered attacking Russian territory, rather than simply defending Ukrainian land. Some say that along with that, Putin has used language that is essentially a veiled threat to defend the territory by any means, including the use of nuclear weapons. 

Coincidentally or not, Cardinal Parolin spoke on Wednesday at the 10th meeting of the Friends of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, a group consisting of Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. According to Vatican News, the Secretary of State reaffirmed that “as global tensions rise and we hear rhetoric threatening the use of nuclear weapons, it is more crucial than ever to bring the CTBT into force with rising global tensions and rhetoric threatening the use of nuclear weapons.” 

Also on Wednesday, at his General Audience, Pope Francis emphasized how in this “tragic war” some people “are thinking about nuclear weapons,” calling these weapons “madness.”

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