Russia defies the Pope, and the world, on Ukraine
When Pope Francis spoke about Ukraine at the Sunday Angelus on 2 March, he called for all Ukrainians to overcome misunderstandings and to build the future of the nation together and made “a heartfelt appeal to the international community to support every initiative on behalf of dialogue and concord”.
Regrettably, there is one country in the international community that appears to have no intention of promoting dialogue and concord. That country, Russia, has just promoted a referendum in the Crimea – part of Ukraine – in breach of the Ukrainian constitution and in defiance of calls by the international community for restraint. As the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said after the referendum took place: “The United Kingdom in common with the rest of the European Union will not recognise the Crimea referendum as legal or legitimate or meaningful. Any referendum that is called at a matter of days notice, has no proper campaigning, no access to the leaders of the country, the presence of tens of thousands of troops, is never going to enjoy credibility in the eyes of the great majority of the rest of the world”. It was a mockery of proper democratic practice, and it is no surprise that Russia was isolated at the UN Security Council on 15 March, with all members calling for Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be preserved.
What we have seen happening in the Ukraine in recent days is indefensible. Russia alone backs the referendum. Russia alone has been prepared to violate international law, disregard the UN charter, and tear up its bilateral treaties. First hand reports from the Maidan in Kiev from priests, religious and representatives of different churches have attested to the hope and prayers of especially young Ukrainians for a peaceful, democratic and independent future for their country, decided by Ukrainians not outsiders. These aspirations to chart their own future are being frustrated by a neighbouring country that appears to have little interest in dialogue or concord.
The Holy See believes in the rule of law. I am sure we shall hear more from them in the next few days. The UK, like other countries, will continue to work for a diplomatic breakthrough with Russia. The future of Ukraine must be for the Ukrainians themselves to build, as Pope Francis has said. That can be the only way forward for all who believe in the values of law, justice and democracy.
UK Ambassador to the Holy See