ROME – Pope Francis says he refuses to reduce the Russian invasion of Ukraine to a case of “good guys and bad guys.”

“There are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys here, in an abstract way,” Francis said during a May conversation with Jesuit media outlets published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa.  

“Something global is emerging, with elements that are very intertwined with each other,” he added. 

While condemning “the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops,” Francis said, “we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved,” and he singled out the armaments industry as one of several factors incentivizing war.

He also quoted the opinion of a head of state he met several months before the start of the war who expressed his concern “about how NATO was moving.”

“I asked him why and he replied, ‘They are barking at Russia’s doorstep. And they don’t understand that the Russians are imperial and they don’t allow any foreign power to come near them’,” Francis said. The pontiff added the unnamed head of state said the way NATO was acting “the situation could lead to war.”

The pontiff warned against danger of focusing only on “the brutality and ferocity with which this war is being waged by troops, generally mercenaries, used by the Russians, who prefer to send Chechens, Syrians, and mercenaries” and that “it is something monstrous.”

But, he added, it is important to also see the “drama unfolding behind this war, which perhaps in some way was provoked or not prevented. And I register an interest in testing and selling weapons. It is very sad, but basically this is what is at stake.”

Francis also denied accusations that he was supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin: 

“No, I am not. It is simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. But I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good and evil, without thinking about the roots and interests, which are very complex,” he asserted. “While we see the ferocity, cruelty of the Russian troops, we cannot forget the problems so we try to resolve them.”

“A few years ago it occurred to me to say that we were living a piecemeal Third World War,” he continued. “Now, for me, the Third World War has been declared. And this is an aspect that should make us reflect. What is happening to humanity that has had three world wars in a century?”

Francis also said that although many are focused on Ukraine because it is “closer,” there are other countries, “far away, I think of some parts of Africa, northern Nigeria, northern Congo – where the war is still going on and nobody cares. Think of Rwanda 25 years ago. Think about Myanmar and the Rohingya. The world is at war.”

He also said the Russians “miscalculated” on how long they thought the war would go – three days, according to Putin – because they hadn’t planned on the “brave” Ukrainian people, “a people who are struggling to survive and who have a history of struggle.”

“This is what moves us: To see such heroism,” Francis said. “I would really like to emphasize this point, the heroism of the Ukrainian people. What is before our eyes is a situation of world war, global interests, arms sales and geopolitical appropriation, which is martyring a heroic people.”

The Argentine pontiff also stressed the danger of the Ukraine war losing the public’s interest over time.

“What will happen when the enthusiasm to help wanes? Because things are cooling down, who is going to take care of these women? We have to look beyond the concrete action of the moment, and see how we are going to support them so that they do not fall into trafficking, so that they are not exploited, because the vultures are already circling,” he said.

Lastly, Francis addressed the matter of Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has voiced support for Russia’s invasion. The pontiff said that even during the 40-minute conversation the two had in March, the latter read him “a statement in which he gave the reasons to justify the war” and that he replied: “Brother, we are not clergymen of the State, we are pastors of the people.”

The two had made tentative plans to meet in person in June in Jerusalem, but it was postponed. However, he said, the two might meet in Kazakhstan in September: “I hope I can greet him and speak with him as a pastor.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma