Putin orders weekend truce for Russian troops in Ukraine; Kyiv won’t take part
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered Moscow’s armed forces to observe a unilateral 36-hour cease-fire in Ukraine this weekend for the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday, the first such sweeping truce move in the nearly 11-month-old war. Kyiv indicated that it would not follow suit.
Putin did not appear to make his cease-fire order conditional on a Ukrainian agreement to follow suit, and it wasn’t clear whether hostilities would halt on the nearly 700-mile front line or elsewhere. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed the Russian move as playing for time to regroup and prepare additional attacks.
At various points during the war, which started Feb. 24, Putin has ordered limited and local truces to allow evacuations of civilians or for other humanitarian purposes. Thursday’s order was the first time he directed his troops to observe a cease-fire throughout Ukraine.
“Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a cease-fire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ,” Putin’s order said.
The order didn’t specify whether it would apply to both offensive and defensive operations. It wasn’t clear, for example, whether Russia would strike back if Ukraine kept fighting.
Ukrainian officials from Zelensky on down dismissed Putin’s moves.
In his nightly video address, Zelensky stopped short of stating his forces would reject Putin’s request to suspend fighting, instead questioning the Russian leadership’s motives.
“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our guys in the Donbas for a while and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized people closer to our positions,” Zelensky said. “What will it give? Just another increase in the count of losses.”
Zelensky claimed that since he unveiled a peace plan in November, almost 110,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, and he accused the Kremlin of planning the fighting pause “to continue the war with renewed vigor.”
The most comprehensive recent Western estimate of Russia’s military losses was from a senior U.S. military official, who said in November that about 100,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded. Russian authorities haven’t provided any recent figure for their military casualties.
The Russian military said measures were being taken to prevent a repeat of the rocket attack that killed at least 89 of its soldiers in Ukraine.
Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Russian forces “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a ‘temporary truce.’ Keep hypocrisy to yourself.”
He also tweeted: “What does a bunch of little Kremlin devils have to do with the Christian holiday of Christmas? Who will believe an abomination that kills children, fires at maternity homes and tortures prisoners? A cease-fire? Lies and hypocrisy. We will bite you in the singing silence of the Ukrainian night.”
President Biden said it was “interesting” that Putin was ready to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches on Christmas and New Year’s. “I think he’s trying to find some oxygen,” he said, without elaborating.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had “little faith in the intentions behind this announcement,” adding that Kremlin officials ”have given us no reason to take anything that they offer at face value.” He said the truce order seems to be a ploy “to rest, refit, regroup, and ultimately re-attack.”
The longer Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lasts, the more likely that drones will be used to identify and attack targets without human aid, experts say.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric welcomed the move but said it “will not replace a just peace in line with the U.N. Charter and International law.”
Putin acted at the suggestion of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who proposed a truce from noon Friday through midnight Saturday night, local time. The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.
Kirill has previously justified Russia’s war in Ukraine as part of a “metaphysical struggle” to prevent liberal ideological encroachment from the West.
Zelensky had proposed starting a path toward peace with a Russian troop withdrawal before Dec. 25, but Moscow rejected it.
Overwhelming evidence shows Russian troops have disregarded international laws governing treatment of civilians and conduct on the battlefield.
Independent political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said Putin’s cease-fire order “fits well into Putin’s logic, in which Russia is acting on the right side of history and fighting for justice.”
“We must not forget that in this war, Putin feels like a ‘good guy,’ doing good not only for himself and the ‘brotherly nations,’ but also for the world he’s freeing from the ‘hegemony’ of the United States,” Stanovaya, founder of the independent R.Politik think tank, wrote on Telegram.
She also linked Putin’s move to Ukrainian forces’ recent strike on Makiivka that killed at least 89 Russian servicemen. “He really doesn’t want to get something like that for Christmas,” the analyst said.
Ukrainians reacted with suspicion.
“On the 8th of March (Women’s Day), (Ukraine’s) independence day, Christmas (Dec. 25) and the New Year, there were no cease-fires. Why should there be one now?” said Sophiia Romanovska, a 21-year-old student who fled Mariupol for Kyiv, peppering her comments with expletives.
Putin issued the truce order after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged him in a phone call to implement a “unilateral cease-fire,” according to the Turkish president’s office. The Kremlin said Putin “reaffirmed Russia’s openness to a serious dialogue” with Ukrainian authorities.
Erdogan also told Zelensky later that Turkey was ready to mediate a “lasting peace.” Erdogan has made such offers frequently. Turkey has already helped broker a deal allowing Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain, and it has facilitated a prisoner swap.
Russia’s professed readiness for peace talks came with the usual strings attached: that “Kyiv authorities fulfill the well-known and repeatedly stated demands and recognize new territorial realities,” the Kremlin said, in a reference to Moscow’s demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other illegal territorial gains.
Russia has sent a frigate armed with the country’s latest hypersonic weapons on a transoceanic cruise in a show of force amid tensions with the West.
Previous attempts at brokering peace talks have fallen at that hurdle, as Ukraine demands that, at the very least, Russia withdraw from occupied areas.
Coupled with talk of diplomacy were new pledges Thursday of military support for Ukraine. Zelensky called the pledges “really a great victory for our state.”
Germany said it would match a U.S. announcement last month to supply Ukraine with a Patriot missile battery, the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the West has provided to Kyiv.
Germany also said it would supply Marder armored personnel carriers, and France said it will discuss with Ukraine delivery of armored combat vehicles that can destroy tanks.
U.S. officials said they will send Ukraine nearly $3 billion in military aid in a new package that will for the first time include several dozen Bradley fighting vehicles. The aim is to get as much aid to Ukrainian forces as possible before spring begins and fighting increases.
The officials said an announcement was expected Friday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the package’s details had not been announced.
The Kremlin contends that the West’s supply of weapons to Ukraine is prolonging the conflict.
As Russia’s military performance weakens, a notorious mercenary group, long part of the Ukraine fight, steps into spotlight.
While more weapons arrive, the battlefield situation appears to have settled into a stalemate and war of attrition. As winter sets in, troop and equipment mobility is more limited.
In the latest fighting, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office, said Thursday that Russian shelling killed at least five civilians and wounded eight in the previous 24 hours.
An intense battle has left 60% of the eastern city of Bakhmut in ruins, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Ukrainian defenders appear to be holding the Russians back.
Taking the city in the eastern Donbas region, an expansive industrial heartland bordering Russia, would not only offer Putin a major battlefield gain after months of setbacks but also rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on toward Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
In what appeared to be a move to entice more men to join the fight, the first convicts recruited for battle by the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, received a promised government pardon after serving six months on the front line.
A video released by Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency showed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s millionaire owner, shaking hands with about 20 pardoned men.
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