On Monday, a magazine called America published an interview with Pope Francis about the war in Ukraine. During the interview, the Pope said the “cruellest” Russian soldiers were generally Chechens and Buryats.
The Pope said: “Generally, the cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats and so on.”
He added that “the one who invades is the Russian state”.
Pope Francis did not provide evidence of this claim but said he had received “much information about the cruelty of the troops”.
The interviewer had asked the Pope about his apparent reluctance to condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine.
Chechens are an ethnic group from the southwest Russian providence Chechnya and are mostly a Muslim population.
Buryats are a Mongolian ethnic group that is indigenous to Buryatia, a Russian republic in eastern Siberia, which tends to follow Buddhism and shamanic beliefs.
Human rights groups and media organizations have documented evidence of war crimes among the Russian military, but there has been no suggestion that those from Russian ethnic minority backgrounds committed more crimes or behaved worse than ethnic Russian soldiers.
It has been speculated that those from ethnic minority backgrounds in Russia are more likely to be affected by the war with Ukraine due to reports from independent local media outlets.
Pavel Luzin, a Russian military expert, said in March this year: “It is becoming clear that a lot of the soldiers who are dying are from the poorer ‘ethnic minority’ republics like Buryatia, Kalmykia and Dagestan.”
Since the Ukraine war began in February this year, Ukraine has criticised Pope Francis for failing to condemn Russia’s actions.
Pope Francis previously faced controversy in June when he said Russia’s war with Ukraine was “perhaps somehow provoked” and said that NATO was “barking at the gates of Russia”.
In a recent interview published on Monday, Pope Francis said: “Sometimes I try not to specify so as not to offend and rather condemn in general, although it is well known whom I am condemning. It is not necessary that I put a name and surname.”
Later on in the interview, the Pope said: “Everyone knows my stance, with Putin or without Putin, without naming him.”