Several Western leaders have predicted Russia's invasion of Ukraine could end in under a week, drawing a sharp contrast with Russia's reported plans to escalate the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to end his invasion of Ukraine on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Pope Francis, a notion apparently bolstered by U.S. Democrats, who are increasingly using the word "victory" in their rhetoric regarding the conflict. But the Western optimism that the war is nearing a close clashes with reports that Putin could issue a war declaration that same day, which is a Russian holiday.
“I sure hope so," Francis, who met with Orban on April 21, said of the conflict's expected end date. "That would explain the speed of the military operations in the last few days. I have a bad feeling about it all, I’ll admit. I’m very pessimistic. However, it is our duty to do all we can to stop the war.”
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A declaration of war on May 9, or Russia's "Victory Day," which commemorates the country's 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II, would allow the Russian military to mobilize reserve forces and draft conscripts. The move could also bolster public support in Russia for the invasion.
The pope has taken several steps to show his solidarity with Ukraine. He scrapped a planned meeting with a Russian Orthodox leader last month, just weeks after kissing a Ukrainian flag. The pope also visited a Russian Embassy in February, a break from convention given that heads of state are typically brought to the Catholic leader for meetings at the Vatican.
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Ukraine has shown surprising resistance to Russia's late-February invasion. Russian leaders are privately surprised by the show of force, saying the neighboring nation has fared unexpectedly well under the weight of the Russian military.
Tens of thousands of people have died, and millions of Ukrainians have been displaced since the start of the conflict.