KEY WEST, Fla. — As the threat of a Russian military incursion into Ukraine continues to loom, European bishops have called for peace, asking that international law and the sovereignty of every nation involved in the conflict be respected as the tensions escalate.
In the statement, signed by Archbishop Gintaras Linas Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), the bishops expressed their closeness to Ukraine and urged the international community to offer support “in the face of the danger of a Russian military offensive.
“While the entire international community interprets the actions of Russian military forces as a real threat to world peace, we embrace – in this time of fear and uncertainty for the country’s future – our brothers and sisters in faith and all Ukrainian people,” they said.
In recent months, Russia has gathered around 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, with around 175,000 of them ready for a military operation that could begin in the coming weeks.
After Ukrainian citizens overthrew pro-Russian President Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych in 2014, Russia annexed southern Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and backed separatists who took control of large swaths of the country’s eastern regions, including Donetsk and Lugansk.
The move came just 23 years after Ukraine gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to which it belonged. Ukraine still maintains deep social and cultural ties with Russia, and the Russian language is widely spoken.
In the years since the start of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, shelling and sniper attacks have become daily occurrences, with the United Nations estimating that to date around 1.5 million people were displaced and around 14,000 died, many of them civilians.
Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s moves towards European institutions and its efforts to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Recently, Russia pressured the West to promise that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
Negotiations are currently underway, and although Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine, tensions remain high and Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened “appropriate military-technical measures of retaliation” if what he perceives as the West’s aggressive approach to the issue continues. .
Russia also demanded that NATO cease all expansion into Eastern Europe and end military activities in the region. If that were to happen, NATO troops would be withdrawn from Poland and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Observers watching the situation unfold fear that the build-up of Russian troops could mean an offensive is planned for early 2022, which could jeopardize European security as a whole.
In their statement, the CCEE echoed statements made by Pope Francis in support of Ukraine, urging those involved to “resolve the crisis through serious dialogue and not through arms.”
Citing the pope’s recent address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, they stressed that “mutual trust and the willingness to engage in calm discussion should also inspire all parties involved, so that acceptable and lasting solutions can be found in Ukraine”.
The Bishops appealed to international leaders, asking that “they do not forget the tragic world wars of the last century and that international law and the independence and territorial sovereignty of each country be upheld.”
“Together with the Holy Father, we want to call on governments to find acceptable and lasting solutions in Ukraine, based on dialogue and negotiation and without resorting to arms,” they said.
“At this extremely delicate time, we ask Christians to pray for the gift of peace in Ukraine so that those responsible are filled and radiate with contagious peace and that the crisis is overcome exclusively through dialogue,” they said. . .
Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his closeness to Ukraine and is rumored to be visiting the country this year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy first extended the invitation for a papal visit when he met Francis in February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Zelenskyy reiterated the invitation last summer during a private phone call with the pope.
The last pope to visit Ukraine was Saint John Paul II in 2001, when he became the first pontiff in modern history to visit the former Soviet nation.
In his Angelus address on Sunday, Jan. 23, Pope Francis expressed concern over the recent escalation of tensions along the Ukrainian border, saying these tensions “threaten to inflict another blow to peace in Ukraine. ” and “call into question the security on the European continent”.
He appealed to all people of good will “to raise their prayers to Almighty God, so that every action and political initiative will be at the service of human brotherhood, rather than partisan interests.”
“Anyone who pursues their own goals at the expense of others despises their own vocation as human beings, because we were all created brothers and sisters,” he said.
In an effort to ease growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Pope Francis has designated this coming Wednesday, January 26, as a day of prayer for peace.
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