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Chechen Leader: Pope 'Victim of Propaganda' After 'Cruelest' Troops Jibe

Newsweek 11/30/2022 Isabel van Brugen
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov attends a ceremony formally annexing four regions of Ukraine Russian troops occupy - Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 30, 2022. © MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov attends a ceremony formally annexing four regions of Ukraine Russian troops occupy - Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 30, 2022.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia's Chechen Republic, said Wednesday that Pope Francis has become a "victim of propaganda" after the pontiff described Chechens and Buryats, two ethnic minority groups fighting in Ukraine, as some of the "cruelest" troops in the war.

Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was responding to comments made by Francis in an interview with the Catholic magazine America published on Monday.

In that interview, Francis, 85, said that while it was the Russian state that invaded Ukraine on February 24: "Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats and so on."

Chechens, the majority of whom practice Islam, are an ethnic group from Chechnya in southern Russia, where Kadyrov is leader. Kadyrov has sent troops from the region to fight in Ukraine alongside regular Russian troops.

Buryats are an ethnic group originating from Buryatia, near the Russia-Mongolia border. Activists and local officials say Buryats have been disproportionally targeted by Putin's mobilization efforts alongside other ethnic minorities.

Responding to Francis' remarks, Kadyrov said the pope had fallen victim to propaganda and the "perseverance of the foreign media."

"The Pope called the Chechens and Buryats the cruelest in the Russian army," Kadyrov wrote on his Telegram channel.

"Everyone is deeply religious" in Chechen units, Kadyrov wrote. "And each fighter knows that in times of war, one should not forget about honor, dignity and even respect for the enemy."

"It's shameful that a world-famous religious personality does not know about the attitude of Muslims toward the enemy."

Earlier, the Kremlin's ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, told Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti that he met with a Vatican official to express his displeasure about Francis' remarks.

"I expressed indignation at such insinuations and noted that nothing can shake the cohesion and unity of the multinational Russian people," Avdeev said.

Kadyrov has regularly suggested that the Russian military ramp up its efforts in the ongoing conflict.

In an audio message on his Telegram channel on October 24, Kadyrov called for Ukraine's cities to be "erased from the earth" as he criticized the Russian military's handling of the war.

Kadyrov said that when making the decision to "wipe cities off the ground," Putin should not worry about the reaction of the West.

Newsweek has contacted Russia's foreign ministry for comment.

Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Russia-Ukraine war? Let us know via worldnews@newsweek.com.

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