Latest news on Russia and the Ukraine war

Pope Francis breaks down and cries while mentioning Ukraine at public prayer

Pope Francis cries while speaking about Ukraine as he attends the Immaculate Conception celebration prayer in Piazza di Spagna in Rome, Italy, December 8, 2022. 

Yara Nardi | Reuters

Pope Francis broke down and cried as he mentioned the suffering of Ukrainians during a traditional prayer in central Rome.

The pope’s voice began to tremble as he mentioned the Ukrainians and he had to stop, unable to speak, for about 30 seconds. When he resumed the prayer, his voice was cracking.

The crowd, including Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri who was right next to the pope, applauded when they realized he was unable to talk and saw him crying.

Francis broke down during a traditional prayer to the Madonna at the foot of a statue on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday in Italy.

“Immaculate Virgin, today I would have wanted to bring you the thanks of the Ukrainian people (for peace),” he said before being overwhelmed by emotion and having to stop.

When he was able to, he continued: “Instead, once again I have to bring you the pleas of children, of the elderly, of fathers and mothers, of the young people of that martyred land, which is suffering so much.”

— Reuters

Finland hopes Turkey will support NATO bid soon, considers arms exports

Finland’s Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen and Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto attend a news conference on Finland’s security policy decisions at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, May 15, 2022. 

Heikki Saukkomaa | Lehtikuva | Reuters

Finland’s defence minister Antti Kaikkonen said the sooner Turkey ratifies its NATO membership bid the better and it would consider granting arms export permits to Turkey on a case by case basis.

In an interview with Reuters after meeting his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in Ankara, Kaikkonen said he could not foresee a timetable for Turkey’s ratification of his country’s NATO membership application.

A leading Turkish politician from Turkey’s ruling AK party said however the speed of ratification lay in Finland and Sweden’s hands and how swiftly they met Turkey’s requests.

The Nordic countries both asked to join NATO this year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but longtime member Turkey refused to endorse their request until a number of demands were met, including taking a tougher stance against Kurdish militants and removing a ban on arms sales.

— Reuters

Biden administration vows to ‘stay focused’ on still-detained Paul Whelan after Griner release

The Biden administration said it will keep working to release Paul Whelan from detention in Russia, while insisting that the deal to free WNBA star Brittney Griner was not an either-or choice between her and Whelan.

“They have set up a separate set of expectations for Mr. Whelan,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

The Kremlin has held Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, since 2018, on espionage charges. He and the U.S. deny the charges.

The deal to free Griner in exchange for an infamous Russian arms dealer was “the only deal we could get and now was the only moment we could get it, so we took advantage of that,” Kirby said.

“We’re going to stay focused on Mr. Whelan,” he said, adding that it was not “some choice between the two.”

“There was only one way to get one American home,” Kirby said.

He noted that the U.S. is in contact with Whelan and his family, and said that the negotiations over American prisoners in Russia are separate from the war in Ukraine.

U.S. officials will continue to engage with Russia about Whelan “for as long as they have to until we get a successful outcome,” Kirby said.

Kevin Breuninger

Scrutiny of Ukraine church draws praise, fear of overreach

Metropolitan Oleksandr delivers a religious service with clerics inside the Transfiguration of Jesus Orthodox Cathedral during blackout caused by recent Russian rocket attacks, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

Efrem Lukatsky | AP

After its searches of holy sites belonging to Ukraine’s historic Orthodox church, the nation’s security agency posted photos of evidence it recovered — including rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch.

Supporters and detractors of the church debate whether such items are innocuous — or increase suspicions the church is a nest of pro-Russian propaganda and intelligence-gathering.

What’s unambiguous are other photos shared by the agency, known as the SBU, posted as recently as Wednesday — some showing an armed Ukrainian officer standing outside a church building, others showing brawny, camouflaged officers questioning clerics in long beards and cassocks.

They illustrate the increased pressure the Ukrainian government is…

Read More: Latest news on Russia and the Ukraine war

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