The United States Ambassador to the Vatican has accused Russia of persecuting religious minorities and causing disaster in Ukraine.
“Today, Russia ranks among the worst violators of religious freedom and human rights,” Ambassador Callista Gingrich said during a roundtable discussion on Ukraine held at the US embassy in Rome on Wednesday 13 June. “There is no sign that its persecution of religious minorities and foreign missionaries is coming to an end.”
Ambassador Gingrich said that Russia’s “unjust actions” in annexing Crimea, in the eastern part of Ukraine, had taken place under the “pretence of ‘defending Russian-speaking people’.”
The truth, she went on, was that Moscow’s military aggression had been “disastrous for people living in these regions” and last month ten soldiers were killed and 91 others were wounded.
“Russia routinely conducts sham trials to persecute Ukrainians,” she explained. “Religious freedom also remains heavily constricted in areas of Ukraine under Russian occupation and control. The United States is deeply concerned by the deterioration of human rights and religious freedom in occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine.”
Her criticism of Moscow came despite President Donald Trump calling for Russia to be allowed back into the G7 – the gathering of the leaders of the world’s most influential countries. Russia had been stripped of its membership of the body largely due to its actions in Ukraine.
Following the roundtable discussion a spokeswoman from the US embassy said: “President Trump is interested in dialogue, but he has also called out our international partners to be more engaged in dealing with occupied Crimea and protecting Ukrainian sovereignty from Russian aggression.”
She added: “We are still standing firm with Ukraine.”
Ambassador Gringrich’s forthright criticism of Russia will also be read in light of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between President Vladimir’ Putin’s government and the Trump presidential campaign.
The ambassador is married to former House of Representatives Speaker, Newt Gingrich, an adviser and ally of the president, who has repeatedly stressed there is no evidence connecting the Trump campaign to Russia.
In her remarks at the Rome roundtable, Ambassador Gingrich explained the US government issued a religious freedom report in 200 countries which showed that freedom practice one’s faith “is increasingly under threat” and that “persecution, violence, and discrimination are daily realities for millions of believers in nearly every region of the world”.
She said that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will convene the first ever ministerial gathering on religious freedom on 25-26 July in Washington D.C. as a way to find concrete ways to prevent persecution.
Next week her embassy will be hosting discussions in Rome with Aid to the Church in Need and the Catholic humanitarian group, the Community of Sant’Edigio, on this topic.
Among those present at the roundtable discussion was Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
“Very often the future of our nation is discussed without us,” he told a small group of reporters afterwards. “The negotiations are about us but without us."
Archbishop Shevchuk cited threats to people living in Ukraine’s Donbas region on the Russian border, where there has been fighting for four years. The archbishop said tens of thousands of children and civilians are at risk of bombings, while millions face being without water supplies. This, he explained, is because water has been polluted with nuclear materials due to an underground mine which had been created for nuclear testing during Soviet times.