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Working for peace in Ukraine

There will be no talks and no peace until each side is convinced it has nothing to gain from further fighting. Meanwhile, there has been a flurry of Vatican diplomatic activity on behalf of peace.

Pope Francis’ envoy to Ukraine Cardinal Matteo Zuppi on June 6, 2023, finished a “brief but intense” two-day visit to Kyiv, which included a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. / Credit: Vatican News/YouTube

Unless the Ukrainian army’s current counteroffensive ends in clear-cut victory for either Ukraine or Russia—an outcome that seems unlikely at the moment—it is possible, though hardly certain, that conditions then will finally exist for a ceasefire and peace talks leading to the war’s conclusion. Since the counteroffensive presumably will continue for another two or three months, that raises the possibility of serious developments as early as this fall.

But while early talks are not certain, something else is: There will be no talks and no peace until each side is convinced it has nothing to gain from further fighting.

Meanwhile, there has been a flurry of Vatican diplomatic activity on behalf of peace.

That was the backdrop for last month’s White House meeting between President Biden and Pope Francis’s special envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, president of the Italian bishops’ conference. Cardinal Zuppi met earlier with government and religious officials in Russia and Ukraine, and, the Vatican has announced, will next meet with Chinese government officials in Beijing.

According to Cardinal-designate Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio in the U.S. who was also at the two-hour meeting with Biden, Cardinal Zuppi spoke about securing the return to Ukraine of children who’ve been deported to Russia during the war. He also delivered a letter to the president from Pope Francis that presumably repeated the Pope’s willingness to help mediate a settlement.

In New York the same day the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, presented a statement to the UN General Assembly that quoted Pope Francis urging use of all diplomatic means, “even those that may not have been used so far,” to end the war and calling specifically for a ceasefire and peace talks. Cardinal Zuppic presumably made the same point in his meeting with Biden.

As to what a settlement might look like, the general lines are clear. Each side would remain where it is when the shooting stops. The ceasefire would be followed by UN-supervised voting in which the people of disputed territories could say whether they wanted to be part of Ukraine or Russia. Establishment of an agreed-upon frontier supervised by a UN peacekeeping force would follow, along with security guarantees (to which the U.S. would be a party) to ensure each side it had nothing to fear from the other.

Sketching the terms is easy, but actually getting an agreement will be a daunting task made more difficult by mutually reciprocated enmity and distrust between the Ukrainians and the Russians after months of barbaric violence. Given that reality, the services of an honest broker such as the Holy See could help a lot.

Cardinal Zuppi’s meeting with President Biden was recognition that the U.S., as Ukraine’s principal military and political backer, is a party to the conflict. And the rationale for Biden to put more muscle into the search for peace lies in the rise of isolationism in segments of the population eager for an end to American involvement in this foreign adventure. Better than anyone, Biden surely grasps that if the fighting persists into the new year, presidential candidates of both parties, capitalizing on neo-isolationist sentiment, will press him to support a settlement in Ukraine on the best terms available.

In short, the American government will be increasingly unlikely to sit by quietly and confine itself to merely wishing the Ukrainians would see the desirability of seeking peace, even though some of their stated goals in the war remain unmet, as may well be the case.

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About Russell Shaw 282 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. Biden?
    Just wondering if Russian tanks would have been so emboldened to cross the border into Ukraine if the earlier United States departure from Afghanistan had been less inept?

    Did the avoidable catastrophe in Afghanistan trigger Putin’s decision to cross the Rubicon, assuming that the United States (and the West) would continue to fold? A two-week exercise, he thought. Could the most recent invasion of Ukraine have been kept on ice by less incompetence elsewhere on the globe?

    And, how to possibly negotiate now in a way that won’t look like Munich?

    • Since the Pope wears two hats-state and church- he is hardly a neutral entity in this situation and is not a credible mediator.

  2. I do not think a peace plan can be accepted by either Party to this Conflict. There have been nearly 200,000 young men of the Russian Federation fed to the war and who lost their lives. I don’t know what the Ukrainian figures are but it must be something in the facility of the Russian death figures. This war will end only when the Russian people decide enough is enough and take to the streets to attempt an overturn of the Putin Government. And then begs the question….Who will follow Putin?

  3. Why not have the leading patriarchs of Russia and Ukraine share the bill in the cage with Musk and Zuckenberg (for charity)?

  4. How much money have we sent over to Ukraine? $160B? $260B? I really hate to say it but, there is a machine of enrichment in place and until that is dismantled the war will continue indefinitely. Think money-laundering and you’ll be far closer to the truth about the war than anything the press is selling.

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