ROME — Pope Francis expressed his “deep concern” Sunday over heightened tensions in eastern Ukraine, as Russia continues its massive military buildup at the nation’s border.
“I am following with deep concern the events in several areas of eastern Ukraine, where in recent months violations of the cease-fire have multiplied, and I observe with great apprehension the increase of military activities,” the pope said following his weekly prayer of the Regina Caeli in Saint Peter’s Square.
“Please, I firmly hope that the increase of tensions may be avoided and, on the contrary, gestures may be made that are capable of promoting mutual trust and fostering reconciliation and peace, so necessary and so desired,” the pontiff said.
“May we also keep at heart the grave humanitarian situation being experienced by that population, to whom I express my closeness and for whom I invite you to pray,” he concluded.
President Biden allegedly expressed “concerns” with the Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border in a phone conversation Thursday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Russia’s military action began after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an executive decree in March announcing a plan to liberate the Crimean Peninsula from Russian control. Kyiv claims that “over a dozen countries” support its plan to retake the region.
The intensifying troops concentration is fueling worries in both Ukraine and the West. In response to requests that it withdraw forces, Moscow has contended it is free to deploy its troops on its own territory and has furthermore warned the government in Kyiv against attempting to reclaim control of the territory held by Russia-backed rebels.
Ukrainian authorities claim they have already lost 30 troops this year as cease-fire violations have become more frequent.
They also accuse Russia of aggravating tensions through its deployment of 41,000 troops near the border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 more to Crimea, where Russia keeps a large naval base.
According to the U.S. and NATO, the concentration of Russian troops is the largest since 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and armed conflict began between Ukrainian forces and the separatists.