The pontiff was speaking in an interview with a Jesuit magazine, America, which was published on Monday but took place on November 22, according to the outlet.
“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,” he said. “I speak of a people who are martyred. If you have a martyred people, you have someone who martyrs them.”
Chechens are an ethnic group originating from Chechnya in southern Russia. Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin leader of the region, has largely been supportive of the war in Ukraine, and has even reportedly sent his own sons to fight there.
The Buryats are an ethnic group from eastern Siberia, in an area which borders Mongolia.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, defended Russia’s ethnic makeup on her official Telegram channel.
“We are one family with Buryats, Chechens and other representatives of our multinational and multi-confessional country,” she said. “And together we will definitely pray for the Holy See, each in his own way.”