Pope Francis said Tuesday that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told him Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be over by May 9, but that he was pessimistic.
He also said that he has requested a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has heard nothing back.
“Orban, when I met him, told me that the Russians have a plan and that on May 9 it will all be over. I hope that is the case,” the pontiff told Italy’s Corriere Della Sera newspaper.
“Because now it’s not just the Donbas, it’s Crimea, it’s Odesa — it’s taking away the Black Sea port from Ukraine. I am pessimistic, but we must make every possible gesture to stop the war.” he said.
May 9 is “Victory Day” — the day Russia annually celebrates the 1945 surrender of Nazi Germany to allied forces, including the then-Soviet Union.
Last month, Orban and the pontiff met at the Vatican for discussions in which Francis showed his appreciation for the welcome Hungary had provided to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.
Francis told Corriere Della Sera that he had sent a message to Putin around 20 days into the conflict saying “that I was willing to go to Moscow.”
“We have not yet received a response and we are still insisting, though I fear that Putin cannot, and does not, want to have this meeting at this time,” he said.
The pope has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine and denounced a “cruel and senseless war,” but without ever mentioning Putin or Moscow by name.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church also said he would not be traveling to Ukraine anytime soon.
“I’m not going to Kyiv for now. I feel I shouldn’t go. I have to go to Moscow first, I have to meet Putin first,” he said.
Francis said Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a close Putin ally, “cannot become Putin’s altar boy.”
Dialogue with the Orthodox Church, which separated from the Catholic Church in 1054, is a stated priority of Francis’s pontificate.
But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the pope’s calls for peace have contrasted with Kirill’s approach.
Kirill has defended Putin’s “military operation” in Ukraine and the fight against Russia’s “external and internal enemies.”
Last month, the pope said that a scheduled meeting in Jerusalem with Kirill has been “suspended.” Speaking with Argentine daily La Nacion, the pope said Vatican diplomats warned that holding the meeting in June “could lead to much confusion.”