SACRU International Document on Ukraine

In light of the Holy Father’s appeals for peace, the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities started collecting the perspectives of various experts during the worsening of the situation

After times of tension at the Russian-Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, announced the launch of a special military operation in Ukraine on the night of February 24th, 2022. Putin explained that the Russian objective is to ‘demilitarise and de-nazify Ukraine’ in his televised speech. This decision comes two days after Putin officially recognized the Donbas, a region formally part of Ukraine but at the core of a protracted conflict since 2014 when Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula and supported Russian separatist movements in south-eastern Ukraine. The consequences of the Russian action are already visible. There have been numerous explosions in several Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, with long columns of cars queuing up in an attempt to leave the city.

The Holy Father Pope Francis strongly appealed for peace on several occasions in the last couple of months. On February 23rd, 2022, the Holy Father expressed his great sorrow about the escalation of events. In light of the Holy Father’s appeals for peace, the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU) started collecting the perspectives of various experts in International Relations, Economy, and Theology from its partner universities during the worsening of the situation. The comprehensive document reflects the SACRU mission of global cooperation for the Common Good based on the Catholic identity. The contributions represent the personal opinions of individual academics and are not intended to be the official position of SACRU and its universities.

Contributions by experts – SACRU Universities

Boston College (United States of America)

Written by Joshua R. Snyder, Assistant Professor of the Practice & Director of Faith, Peace, & Justice Program

Peacebuilding, not Just War, is how to respond to the Ukrainian Crisis

The crisis at the Ukrainian border has reached a boiling point. On Tuesday, February 22, Russia’s parliament authorized President Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force outside of the country. This clears the way for Putin to deploy troops into the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine in order to support the self-proclaimed independent separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.  In the most significant military buildup since the Second World War, Russia has amassed between 165,000 and 190,000 military personnel surrounding three sides of Ukraine. While Western leaders warn that a Russian attack may be imminent, the reality is that Ukraine has been under assault for the past eight years.

In February 2014, Russia violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum when its troops illegally invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.[1]  Subsequently, Russia supplied political and military aid in support of the independence claims of Donetsk and Luhansk.  According to the Ukrainian government, the war has cost the lives of 14,000 people, drained billions from the economy, and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.  In 2015, the Minsk II Accords established a fragile ceasefire.  Yet tensions continue to increase as Russia escalates its hybrid campaign against Ukraine.  There are four dimensions to this hybrid war: military, propaganda, political and economic.[2]

While Russia’s actions legitimate the use of force according to the Just War Tradition’s criteria of jus ad bellum, it is crucial for the international community to commit itself to peacebuilding in lieu of violence.  Looking at the last fifty years of Catholic social thought it is clear there can no longer be a presumption in favor of war as a means of conflict mitigation.  In Pacem et terres, Pope John XXIII maintained that war is not a viable instrument with which to repair the violation of justice. (No. 127). Likewise, Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti, “war is a negation of all rights… If we want true integral human development for all we must work tirelessly to avoid war.” (No. 257) Later in the encyclical he states, “it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a just war. Never again war!” (No. 258)  In a joint statement, the Catholic Bishops of Ukraine and Poland echoed these sentiments regarding war.  “Today, too, we want to make it clear that any war is a tragedy and can never be an adequate means of solving international problems… In the final analysis, war is always a failure of humanity. It is an expression of barbarism and quite an ineffective tool for resolving disagreements.”[3]

We cannot respond to threats to the common good by identifying justifications for war. Rather, peacebuilding calls for a commitment to justice and development.  According to Populorum Progressio, development is the new name for peace. (No. 76)  As such, peacebuilding entails securing basic freedoms and rights, promoting productive relationships and establishing structures and institutions that allow for human flourishing.  Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but the comprehensive answer to our greatest social needs.  It entails human flourishing within a communal context, having economic, social, political and religious dimensions.  Peace is pluralistic and dynamic, involves multiple relationships, and requires order and association.  In order to achieve peace, the institutions and policies that govern social living must be inclusive and allow for the full participation of its citizens.

The Church has a unique responsibility to promote peacebuilding.  It has an obligation to advocate for human rights and reconciliation. This effort is especially relevant within the Russo-Ukrainian context and the shared faith of Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  We see this when Pope Francis, following his January 23 Angelus, called on all people of good will to make January 26 a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine.  Likewise, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk believes the pope could exert his moral capital and help deescalate the crisis by coming to Ukraine.  Shevchuk claimed, “the people see the gesture of a papal visit as one of a messenger of peace… There is a consensus in Ukraine, not just among Catholics but also among Orthodox and even non-believers, that Pope Francis is the most important moral authority in the world today.”[4]  Lastly, in a letter to the Orthodox and Catholic Bishops of Russia and Ukraine, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, President of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, wrote, “these two different nations have much in common and it should lead them not to hatred, but to mutual respect and friendship. A necessary condition for this to occur is respect for the rights of the nations, including the right to self-determination and territorial integrity.”[5]  Collectively, the bishops of the region need to exhort the economic, political, and military leaders of Russia to take responsibility for peacefully coexisting with Ukraine.

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy)

Written by Raul Caruso, Professor of Peace Economics at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano

Three points of discussion to avoid further escalation in Ukraine

On February 24th, 2022, Vladimir Putin launched a large-scale attack against Ukraine. Many countries have severely condemned it. Tension has now escalated. All governments and diplomats ought to work tirelessly to avoid further worsening and protect civilians. Hereafter, I raise three additional points worth discussing to avoid further escalation in the near future.

First, although the focus is on Russia, US and Europe in these hours, it is time to reinvigorate a broad dialogue with China. Cooperation with China is compelling nowadays. In particular, since western states are imposing a comprehensive set of significant economic sanctions against the Kremlin, China may become the key actor in such a scenario. The sanctions could turn ineffective if a large trading partner like China takes over the business of western countries with Russia. Recently, Bejing and Moscow have strengthened their ties, and China is a major importer of Russian oil and gas. China may increase their imports so heavily supporting the Kremlin. US and European countries have to avoid this.

Second, albeit unpopular and ineffective within a brief time, it is time to re-launch global policies and agreements on the arms trade. In the latest years, the ambiguous approach of western governments on arms trade has contributed to the fragmentation of the arms market. Western governments have become competitors in the world weapons market rather than sticking to traditional relationships to shrink the market. Then, arms sales have become a central element of Russian foreign policy. Some countries are now tied to the Kremlin because of that link. The signal to be sent to the world is that democracies are committed to establishing peace. Therefore, any further ambiguity in the global arms market has to be avoided.

Third, European democracies of the EU have to commit themselves to finalize the enlargement towards the Balkans. There, Putin has a substantial impact on the region because of the support given to one member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency, namely the Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. In the latest months, tension has increased in the region. Needless to say, a new war in Bosnia would be the worst-case scenario for Europe. Finally, in brief, reaching a cease-fire is extremely urgent but working to change the global scenario of instability is also compelling.

Universitat Ramon Llull (Spain)

Written by Manuel Manonelles, Associated Professor, International Relations. Blanquerna School for Communication and International Relations, Ramon Llull University, Barcelona.

The Ukraine crisis in the global geopolitical context and the potential role of the Holy See

Geopolitical Analysis:

What we are witnessing in the current crisis in Ukraine is not only a clash in terms of regional balance in an already complex area, or the resurgence of a new “cold war” between Russia and the United States and allies; but a systemic shift with far-reaching consequences both from a European and global scope.  At the European level, the current turmoil can result with the coup de grâce of the multilateral architecture that governed security and political cooperation in the post-Cold War Europe.

The source of the current situation takes us back to the fall of Kabul last August and the following chaos, which did send the world a strong signal of American weakness. A stark picture of the instability resulting from the progressive retreat of the dominant empire and the consequent power vacuum. However, it must be remembered that this retreat was not started by the Biden administration but was promoted in a larger scale by Trump’s one and his policy of mass return of American troops from several fronts: from the Korean peninsula, followed by Afghanistan or the European military bases.

In this context, the Kremlin perceived the opportunity to activate a long-planned strategy. A full-fledged “stress test” to put Washington on the ropes and return Eastern Europe to its “natural order” or, rather, the order that Moscow considers the “natural” one in the area. The meticulous preparation of the operation by the Kremlin is evident, especially when it refers to the role of China. The escalation in Ukraine did took place only after Putin had held a first virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (December 15, 2021), when a new Sino-Russian alliance was presented against “Western interference”. An alliance confirmed with the Joint Declaration by Russia and China of February 4th, 2022, coinciding with the presence of President Putin at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. An Olympic Games that, by the way, counted with the institutional boycott of the United States, among others.

It should be noted that many capitals and their respective security agencies are carefully following the evolution of this crisis. The fact is that the way the situation in Ukraine is “resolved” can have serious impacts on other scenarios, from the Balkans to the Taiwan Strait. Tension is also growing in the Balkans, and in particular in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There, the secessionist attitude of Mirolad Dodick -the leader of Republika Srpska one of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina- is leading to threaten the country’s delicate institutional balance, a structure resulting from the 1995 Dayton peace agreements imposed by the United States.

Therefore, the evolution of Ukrainian instability -in one direction or another- will end up having a Balkan derivative, as few observers think that behind Dodick there is also the influence of the Kremlin. In other words, an increase of instability in this area could take place if the current Russian pressure on Ukraine does not end up with the results that Moscow wants. Not to mention China, which has long been strengthening its presence in the Balkans and not just in Montenegro.

The other dossier is Taiwan. It is important to underline that the crisis we are experiencing, with a tension that recalls some of the most delicate moments of the Cold War, is between the United States and Russia, that is, between the world’s first and eleventh economies. So, what might happen if a similar situation would confront the first two ones? United States and China? This is the great “gift” that Beijing is receiving from the Ukrainian crisis, a highly valuable handbook on how the Biden administration and its allies respond to the doses of pressure and escalation that Russia is administrating.

Everyone is aware of that, starting with Washington, going through all the European capitals, through Moscow, Beijing and ending in Taipei. That is why while the United States know that while the military option in Eastern Europe is meaningless, on the other hand they are fully aware that they cannot show the slightest weakness, as it would open the door to an even more delicate and serious front for global stability.

The potential role of the Holy See:

Within this context, the contribution that the Holy See -and specifically the Holy Father- could play in the short, but particularly in the mid-term management of the abovementioned framework is of particular relevance, as well as fully aligned with the Social Teaching of the Church.

On one hand, whatever is the final output of this crisis, the tension and volatility in the area and between the different blocks will continue for a long time, and instability will be one of the defining aspects of the immediate future of the region. The danger of a new cold war atmosphere in Europe is more than evident:

  • To this respect, the traditional role of the Holy See in providing a channel for discreet diplomatic exchange as well as second track diplomacy is well known. Therefore, this could be an important and useful tool, bearing in mind that rebuilding trust within the different parts will be a long-lasting effort.
  • Within this framework, the particular nature of the Holy See and its relationship with the Patriarchate of Moscow[6] -including the “joint work” in Syria- are an added value and could become an extra channel through which these diplomatic efforts could be also conducted.
  • Even more, the recognition by Ukraine of the potential role as a mediator of Pope Francis[7] should not be underestimated, as well as the fact that the Biden administration should be a priori sympathetic to that.

Moreover, one of the collateral effects of this crisis is the growing danger that the multilateral architecture that has governed security and political cooperation in the post-Cold War Europe becomes irrelevant and marginal. Particular reference is made to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on one side, and the Council of Europe on the other.

  • Here again, the potential role of the Holy See –that is present in both institutions- in reinforcing the role of this institutional architecture could and should be studied and promoted. This would be in total alignment with the Social Teaching of the Church and with recent statements by the Holy Father referring to the crisis of multilateralism and the urgent need to address that[8].
  • One of the options to do so could include, if considered appropriate and as a part of a broader strategy, a visit of the Holy Father to one or both institutions[9].
  • This danger of marginality is extensive not only to the abovementioned pan-European multilateral architecture, but also at the global level, bearing in mind the marginal role that the United Nations –for instance- is playing in this crisis. Here again, the role of the Holy See in reinforcing multilateral fora as the proper tools to address such kind of crisis would be more than appropriate.

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile)

Written by Pablo Cabrera, Professor and Senior Researcher of UC Chile Center for International Studies. Former Chile’s Ambassador to Moscow between 2000 and 2004 and to the Holy See between 2006 and 2010

A Reflection on my term as Ambassador to Moscow and Kyiv

Nothing is more popular than peace and how difficult it is to achieve, a statement that is as true as ever when diplomacy is involved in any dispute or controversy. This is also a valid statement when analyzing the tension between Russia and Ukraine and the evolution of their relations after the demise of the Soviet Union (USSR). The fact that Ukraine was one of the four founding republics of the USSR and the first to become independent adds a particular connotation, recalling that Vladimir Putin considers the dissolution of the USSR the ‘greatest catastrophe of the 20th century’.

With this in mind, since my arrival to take up the post of Ambassador to Moscow, which coincided with his inauguration as President of the Russian Federation, I have been able to perceive the close ties between the two countries, which I now see blurred for various reasons. I would add that I was concurrent Ambassador to Kyiv in 2002. Russia has always seen Ukraine as central to its sphere of influence and an integral part of its history; in other words, a nation linked by blood. To suggest an invasion now, citing (geo)political, strategic, and economic reasons, is nonsensical because, in practice, it would mean for the government to start a kind of civil war that is not in line with its stated approach to Ukraine. In this context, the most significant change is that Ukrainians want to free themselves from the protective umbrella of Russia and want to join NATO and the European Union, which – in Russian eyes – means a break with their history. This is indeed about considering themselves a civilization, which would distinguish Ukraine from several republics that were once part of the USSR.

Now, as far as NATO’s eastward enlargement is concerned, I believe that Russia has always maintained the same apprehension. However, the explication of its refusal now would not be a change of strategy but rather a tactic. It would rather be linked, on the one hand, with the opportunity in which the world geopolitical map is very tense due to a very ‘liquid’ global landscape and a resentment of world leadership, which – exacerbated by the pandemic – has brought confusion, instability and uncertainty and, on the other hand, with Ukraine which, in addition to the above reasons, has a significant geographical position in the configuration of a new world order in full development.

Universidade Católica Portuguesa (Portugal)

Written by Mónica Días, Head of the PhD Programme at the Institute for Political Studies

Risking peace in East Ukraine

In politics, every risk can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. The current situation in Ukraine represents an extremely critical moment, where we have to decide, again, what values we stand for and how we respond not only to aggressions to international laws and agreements, but more generally to a whole culture of war that endangers the lives and the dignity of millions of people so far and so close.

The present-day scenario at our sight is an escalation of a conflict that jeopardizes Ukraine´s autonomy and identity since the beginning of its post-soviet independence. Even if there was no open war in the Donbass region, in the last 8 years there has been no peace for the multi-national populations either.

The polarization of different communities who always shared the same soil was fuelled by Putin´s greatest discontent: the incapacity to overcome the disintegration of the former area of Russian influence and the loss of its major geopolitical relevance, as well as its inability to find a way into the community of free and open Democracies, based on the principle of the rule of law and civil and political rights. Accordingly, the self-acclaimed almighty President is unwilling to see the obvious: neighbour states becoming successful liberal democracies, and people all over centre- and eastern Europe moving and speaking up freely and eventually preferring to join Western organizations, which open a new and more prosperous future and might end the constant menace of a return to a submissive past. And this new attitude that was genuinely expressed in the Euromaidan in 2013 and 2014 (echoing the distant civil uproar known as the rose revolution Georgia in 2003 or even, more recently, in the protest of the citizens of Minsk in 2018) was considered by the former head of KGB Vladimir Putin as a major risk threatening his idea of a great Russia, shattering his nationalist and authoritarian narrative and, ultimately, compromising his own political survival.

Now, the scenario has of course changed. The propaganda has turned into war and once again we can witness how the proclaimed leaders in the East-Ukraine region are careless about human suffering, about the stories of thousands of internally displaced people (on one side or the other of the borders) and about the possibility of a bloodshed of his own people. After the illegal occupation of Crimea, Putin violated international law again breaking explicitly the Un Charter or the Minsk Agreement and by staging a theatre of war played by Russian separatist actors who perform a full-fledged territorial invasion dramatically called a peacekeeping mission.

The last blow to this foreseeable tragedy was Putin´s recent denial of an autonomous Ukrainian history and identity to the Ukraine. But no, Mr. President, Ukraine is not Russian territory, because as Pope Benedict XV reminded in the midst of the First World War: “nations do not die”. As Putin is risking war, we must prepare now for a clear answer to those who expand their power with a logic of fear and violence. Difficult months are coming, and challenges are expected from all over the Western countries regarding gas and oil supplies, as well as threats to our security, to our economy or our digital communication. This is however the price of solidarity and the duty of freedom, that is not given, but must be defended again and again, and given the growing interdependence, must be protected not only on a national level, but is a regional or global task. Seen from a different angle, though, this risk could be an opportunity to come closer, to unite around the principles that built the European Union in its beginning and to renew the commitment of the Atlantic Charter enabling NATO to redefine its role in the XXI century.

While Putin is coldly taking the risk war (with all unforeseeable consequences), the West must risk peace. This means that it must confront Putin with determination while leaving an open place at the table of negotiations, insisting on diplomacy, even amidst war, remembering those who are suffering, even beyond the lines of the enemies, and offering shelter and hope, even if the horizon of a more sustainable post conflict peace building seems far away. Curiously, but not by chance, Pope John Paul II focussed in his seminal 1995 speech at the UN on how the non-violent revolutions of the people in central and east European (mentioning Ukraine) successfully set them free from Soviet rule. His words might encourage us again on this perilous way: “Inspired by the example of all those who have taken the risk of freedom, can we not recommit ourselves also to taking the risk of solidarity — and thus the risk of peace?”.

Sophia University (Japan)

Written by Tetsuo Morishita, Professor of Law

The Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

Established negotiation theory tells that negotiations cease when at least one party’s interests are better served by the best alternative that could be obtained through some independent course of action (known as ‘BATNA’, Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement) than by continued negotiation. According to this theory, in a conflict situation, the termination of negotiation and the use of force may occur when the use of force as BATNA could satisfy – or is perceived to satisfy – a party’s interest more fully than any agreement that could be reached through negotiation.

Negotiation remains possible even after the use of military force has been initiated.  Rather, it is negotiation that can bring military action to an end.  If the alternative – the use of force – becomes less attractive, negotiations will start, continue and result in an agreement. There are many factors that could make the use of force less attractive, including the attitude of the international community against the use of force. If the use of military force attracts materially detrimental repercussions from the international community, it is less likely to serve a state’s interests better than any outcome potentially available through negotiation. Therefore, each of us, as peace-seeking members of the international community, has some degree of power to make the use of force less attractive and therefore incentivise a negotiated agreement.

In order to make negotiation effective, it is essential that negotiations are based on good communication and understanding each other among parties. Even in the current difficult situation, it is to be hoped that the relevant countries will continue their best efforts to conduct such negotiations.

The use of force often results from a state’s miscalculation about its attractiveness as a BATNA. My own nation, Japan, has learned this by bitter experience. As history reveals, the actual consequences for the interests of Japan differed drastically from the estimations made when Japan elected to abandon negotiation and resort to force. One of the reasons for such overvaluation is that people are demonstrably poor at assessing prospects and risks in which they are directly involved. One way to avoid such a wrong choice as a result of the overestimation of a BATNA is for others who are in a better position to assess the objective value of the BATNA clearly tell the true value of the BATNA. So, the international community ought unambiguously to communicate that force will not bring the benefits expected. Here too, each of us, as members of a peace-seeking international community, can help to reduce the perceived attractiveness of force over peaceful negotiation. It is vital that we exercise whatever power we have in this regard, rather than leaving it to others.


[1]      Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has found itself in a precarious geopolitical situation.  For a short time, it possessed the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal until deciding to denuclearize.  In exchange, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s security with the signing of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

[2]      Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, “Virtual News Conference,” Pontifical Aid Agency to the Church in Need, February 4, 2022.

[3]      Polish and Ukrainian Catholic Bishops, Appeal of the Catholic Bishops of Poland and Ukraine to Seek Dialogue and Understanding in order to Avert the Danger of Hostilities, January 24, 2022.

[4]      Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Video Conference from Kyiv, February 8, 2022.

[5]      Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, “Letter to the Orthodox and Catholic Bishops of Russia and Ukraine,” February 14, 2022.




[9] Pope Francis did already visit the Council of Europe in 2014 on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of that institution.