In response to remarks he made in an interview with the prestigious Jesuit magazine America, Russia has accused Pope Francis of lying and engaging in race-baiting. Francis has recently increased his criticism of the war after initially drawing scorn for failing to identify Russia as the invading power during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In general, perhaps, those who are Russian but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati, and so on, are the cruelest, Francis told the magazine.

The claims made by the pope that some ethnic groups within Russia’s combative core were “cruel,” according to Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker of the Federation Council of Russia, were “completely false.”

The pope was speaking out of turn, Kosachev retorted. According to him, the statement is totally unacceptable in both form and content, as reported by TASS. I would like to make it clear that the head of the Roman Catholic Church is not authorized to comment on a situation that neither the state (the Vatican) nor the Roman Catholic Church is involved in. It’s surprising that they came from one of Christianity’s pioneers, he continued.

Kosachev added that the pope had distinguished between people and religion and hinted that he might even be deteriorating the situation on the front lines. “It is totally unacceptable in today’s world, and I can only regret that Pope Francis made an enormous mistake in this case, which can only have a negative impact on the conflict and will in no way help the parties find common ground and a way out of the crisis through reconciliation,” he said in a statement.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, weighed in against the pope. She wrote on her Telegram channel, “This is no longer Russophobia, it’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name. “With Buryats, Chechens, and other citizens of our multicultural and multireligious nation, we are one family.”

The argument will undoubtedly dash Francis’ hopes of taking part in talks to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Recently, he proposed going to both Moscow and Kyiv, as well as providing Vatican property as a neutral location for talks.

The magazine also questioned Francis about why, throughout the conflict’s nearly one-year duration, he has never mentioned Vladimir Putin. “Why do I not name Putin? Because it is not necessary,” he said. “It is already known. However, sometimes people latch onto a detail. Everyone knows my stance, with Putin or without Putin, without naming him.”

Francis has used his twice-weekly audiences to draw attention to the horrors the Ukrainian people have to endure. He reiterated remarks he made to the public last week when he told the magazine, “When I speak about Ukraine, I speak of a people who are martyred. “You have someone who martyrs them if you have a martyred people,” the saying goes.

The pope continued by defending his decision not to specifically mention Russia. “There is no doubt that the Russian state is the one that invades. This is quite obvious,” he said. “Even though it is obvious who I am criticizing, there are times when I try to avoid being specific in order to avoid offending and instead condemn in general. I don’t have to include my name and last name.

Francis has also previously offended Ukraine by calling Darya Dugina, a Russian propagandist and daughter of top ally to Vladimir Putin, an “innocent victim of war.”