Pope Francis' 'white flag' call for Ukraine faces backlash; India wants its 'duped' citizens back from Russian army

Former US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Former US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Former U.S. President Donald Trump will “not give a penny” to Ukraine for its war with Russia if he is re-elected, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on state television after meeting with Trump in Florida.

“He will not give a penny into the Ukraine-Russia war and therefore the war will end, as it is obvious that Ukraine on its own cannot stand on its feet,” Orban said on Sunday evening.

“If the Americans do not give money and weapons, and also the Europeans, then this war will be over. And if the Americans do not give money, the Europeans are unable to finance this war on their own, and then the war will end.”

Orban has long held friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, refusing to send weapons to Ukraine and maintaining active economic ties with Moscow despite EU sanctions. He met with Putin last October in China, despite criticism from other European leaders.

— Natasha Turak

DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE – DECEMBER 16: Soldiers of 59th Motorized Brigade of the Ukrainian army prepare for artillery fire towards Russian positions to support frontline troops in the direction of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on December 16, 2023. (Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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Italy’s Defense Minister Guido Crosetto opposes sending Western troops to Ukraine, he said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa, saying it would hurt chances at diplomacy.

“Sending troops to Ukraine would be a step towards unilateral escalation, which would stand in the way of diplomacy. There is no point thinking about this now, after two years of the war,” Crosetto said.

He also referred to Poland and France, whose leaders have suggested the possibility of sending Western troops into the war-torn country, saying those countries spoke for themselves and did not represent NATO, which has “formally and voluntarily stayed away from the war.”

On Sunday, U.K. Foreign Minister David Cameron told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview that he was against sending Western troops to Ukraine even for training assignments, saying that they would become Russian targets.

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba directly criticized the Vatican and Pope Francis’ “white flag” comments via X on Sunday, saying that his country will never surrender to Russia.

“Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags,” Kuleba wrote. His post was in response to remarks made by the Pope in an interview during which he said “the strongest” party in the Ukraine-Russia war is the one with “the courage of the white flag.”

“When it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican’s strategy from the first half of the twentieth century,” Kuleba wrote. “I urge to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to support Ukraine and its people in their just struggle for their lives.”

— Natasha Turak

India is seeking the release of its nationals who have been “duped” into serving in the Russian army, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said Friday, in a rare rift from Moscow.

“Several Indian nationals have been duped to work with the Russian army. We have strongly taken up the matter with the Russian government for early discharge of such internationals,” said spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal. “A case of human trafficking has been registered against several agents.”

He appealed to Indian nationals to “not be swayed by offers made by agents for support jobs with the Russian army. This is fraught with danger and risk to life,” stressing that New Delhi remains “committed to early release of our nationals serving as support staff with the Russian army and the eventual return home.”

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— Ruxandra Iordache

Three people were killed in Russian shelling and several injured in eastern Ukraine, the country’s government said Sunday.

A Russian strike on a residential building in the eastern town of Myrnograd injured a dozen people, according to local authorities there.

“Three people died as a result of today’s shelling in the Donetsk region,” the war-torn region’s governor Vadym Filashkin said in a post on Telegram.

In the western Russian front-line region of Kursk, a Russian woman was killed by Ukrainian shelling a few miles from the border, authorities there said.

“As a result of a direct hit from a shell, a residential building caught fire and a local woman died. Her husband had extensive burns and is now receiving qualified medical care,” Kursk governor Roman Starovoyt said in a Telegram post.

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a remark that appeared to criticize recent comments by Pope Francis about what Ukraine should do to end the war with Russia.

In his nightly address Sunday posted to Telegram, Zelenskyy thanked Ukrainian religious leaders for their “prayer and discussion” supporting Ukraine’s military, and added, “This is indeed what ‘a church with the people’ is, unlike virtual mediation 2,500 km away.”

Over the weekend, part of an interview with the Pope recorded in February was released, in which the religious leader advocated for negotiating with Russia. The interview was recorded by Swiss broadcaster RSI.

“I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates,” Francis said, when asked about his stance on whether Ukraine should give up as it has been struggling against Russian troops.

“The word negotiate is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate.”

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov (C), flanked by (from L) Raney Aronson-Rath, Vasilisa Stepanenko and Evgeniy Maloletka, accepts the award for Best Documentary Feature Film for “20 Days in Mariupol” onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 10, 2024.

Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP

A Ukrainian documentary titled “20 Days in Mariupol” won the country’s first-ever Oscar, and its director Mstyslav Chernov accepted the award at the 96th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Chernov, a Ukrainian journalist, shot the film inside the besieged port city of Mariupol as it was bombarded by Russian forces shortly after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“I am honored but I will probably be the first director on this stage to say that I wish I had never made this film,” Chernov said during his acceptance speech.

“I wish to be able to exchange this for Russia never attacking Ukraine, never invading our cities. I wish to be able to exchange this for Russian not killing 10,000 of my fellow Ukrainians.”

“I cannot change history. I cannot change the past. But we all together, you – some of the most talented people in the world – can make sure the history record is set straight and the truth will prevail and the people of Mariupol and those who have lost their lives will never be forgotten,” he said.

“Because cinema forms memories and memories form history.”

Nearly half a million people lived in the southeastern Ukrainian city before the invasion. It is now under full Russian occupation, having been illegally annexed by Russia in late 2022. Roughly 120,000 people remained there as of May 2023, according to the Ukrainian government.

— Natasha Turak

Microsoft on Friday said that Russian group Nobelium, which the company refers to as Midnight Blizzard, has been trying to access its internal systems and source code repositories.

“In recent weeks, we have seen evidence that Midnight Blizzard is using information initially exfiltrated from our corporate email systems to gain, or attempt to gain, unauthorized access. This has included access to some of the company’s source code repositories and internal systems,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

Microsoft said Midnight Blizzard was trying to access secrets, including those shared between Microsoft and its customers, but that it was reaching out and helping affected customers.

“Midnight Blizzard has increased the volume of some aspects of the attack, such as password sprays, by as much as 10-fold in February, compared to the already large volume we saw in January 2024,” it said.

Microsoft first said in January that it had detected a cyberattack from Nobelium, which saw the Russian group hack emails from top executives.

— Sophie Kiderlin

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