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Following Pope’s comments, NATO head says Ukraine needs weapons, not white flags

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (U.S. State Department photo/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed a call by Pope Francis for Ukraine to “raise the white flag and negotiate with Russia,” saying the best way to end the conflict is to arm Kyiv.

“If we want a negotiated, peaceful, lasting solution, the way to get there is to provide military support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said on March 11 in response to a Reuters question about the Catholic leader’s comments.

In a televised interview broadcast on March 10, the 87-year-old Francis said Ukraine should have the “courage” to negotiate with Russia to save the lives of its own citizens. Tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict have been killed since the February 2022 full-scale invasion.

“When you see that you are defeated, that things are not working out, to have the courage to negotiate,” the pope said.

Ukraine recovered much of the territory Russia initially seized following the attack in 2022. However, Ukraine’s much-anticipated 2023 counteroffensive failed to make much progress, raising concerns the war had reached a stalemate.

Experts say that a negotiated settlement now would only benefit Russia, cementing its gains to date in Ukraine and allowing it to reconstitute its forces for a future attack. Such experts say that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not given up hope of conquering all of Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who has proposed sending an additional $60 billion in aid to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia, has warned that Putin will not stop at Ukraine should he be victorious.

Biden’s aid package has been held up in Congress for five months, starving the Ukrainian forces of munitions and weapons to counter Russian attacks.

Stoltenberg, who is a proponent of aid to Ukraine, said the outcome of negotiations would depend on what was happening on the battlefield. Russia at the moment has the initiative, as Ukraine waits for a decision on U.S. aid.

“It’s not the time to talk about surrender by the Ukrainians. That will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians. It will also be dangerous for all of us,” Stoltenberg said.