Pope Francis has been steadfast in his opposition to the war in Ukraine, decrying the violence that it has wrought on innocent civilians. At the same time, the pope suggested there was blame for the war to go around beyond Russia and Vladimir Putin.

On Tuesday, an Italian newspaper published an interview with Francis where he declined to state what he believed was Putin’s exact motivations for launching the war against Ukraine on Feb. 24. However, the pope suggested that the West could bear some responsibility for what he says may have been its provocation of Putin. 

"Maybe it was NATO barking at Russia’s gate that compelled Putin to unleash the invasion of Ukraine," Francis speculated in the interview with Corriere Della Sera. He repeated that he had "no way of telling whether his [Putin's] rage" had been provoked, but added it was his suspicion the war was "maybe facilitated by the West's attitude."

He added: “You cannot think that a free state can wage war on another free state...In Ukraine, it seems that it was others who created the conflict."

Francis’ remarks may come as a surprise given his own critiques of the war. After it began, Francis himself made his way to the Russian embassy at the Vatican to “register his concerns” and he had made repeated overtures to Moscow to facilitate either a truce or humanitarian efforts. All of these were left unanswered by Russian officials. On April 13, Francis also lamented the killing of civilians in the war, something he said left the faithful troubled because it was "marked by the forces of evil."

The pope’s comments in a broad sense echoed recriminations made by Putin in the run-up of the war. During his address that announced the start of the “special military operation” against Ukraine, Putin accused NATO of moving only closer to Russian borders and argued it could "no longer just watch what is happening". 

Asked by his interviewers whether a trip to Ukraine was in the cards, Francis declined to commit to one, insisting that it would be more appropriate to visit Russia first. However, Francis caveated this by insisting he is uncertain about whether any meeting with Putin will translate into progress towards ending the war. 

He also declined to endorse the West’s supply of military weapons to Kyiv before accusing both sides of engaging in an immoral arms race. The United States and its European allies have been transferring heavier, more advanced weaponry to Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s retreat from around Kyiv. Francis said that the flow of weapons into Ukraine was a “disgrace”.

"What seems indisputable is that in that country both sides are trying out new weapons," Francis said. "The production and the sale of armaments is a disgrace, but few are bold enough to stand up against it."