WE’LL probably never get to know if Pope Francis is a devotee of the wit and wisdom of Otto von Bismarck. The pontiff’s latest reflections on the Ukrainian crisis though, echo the thoughts of the great, 19th century German chancellor on the art of diplomacy. “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the next best thing,” Von Bismarck once said.

This week, the Pope dared to express views which currently get you labelled as a pro-Putin heretic by those who like to shake their fists at Russia from a safe distance. The Pope’s observations appeared in the Italian daily, Corriere Della Sera.

The Pope suggested that Nato’s implacable eastward expansionism had to be considered as a contributory factor when responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He described it as “barking at the door of Russia” and mused on the wisdom of supplying arms to the conflict.

Lest he too be accused of being a Putin puppet he also took aim at the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church for endorsing the Russian President’s aggression. In a remark that will surely be in the running for diplomatic put-down of the year, he admonished Patriarch Vladimir Kirill, saying that he “cannot turn himself into Putin’s altar-boy”.

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