Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine to run during Orthodox Christmas, a move that war-battered Kyiv swiftly branded as “hypocrisy”.
Putin’s directive to his troops was announced days after Moscow suffered its deadliest reported loss of the invasion, and following 11 months of brutal combat.
Both nations celebrate Orthodox Christmas and the Russian leader’s order came after a ceasefire was urged by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill, a staunch Putin supporter.
“Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the defence minister of the Russian Federation to introduce… a ceasefire along the entire line of contact between the sides in Ukraine,” said a Kremlin statement.
It will run from from 12:00 (0900 GMT) January 6, until 24:00 (2100 GMT) on January 7, the Kremlin said.
Kyiv attacked the announcement, calling it “hypocrisy”.
Russia “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a ‘temporary truce’. Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Russia occupies parts of eastern and southern Ukraine after 11 months of fighting, but Kyiv has reclaimed swathes of its territory and this week claimed a New Year’s strike that killed scores of Moscow’s troops.
Earlier Thursday Erdogan, who has good relations with Moscow, had urged Putin to declare a “unilateral” ceasefire during a telephone conversation between the two leaders, the Turkish leader’s office said.
The Kremlin reported that Putin told Erdogan he was open to dialogue if Kyiv accepted the “new territorial realities” on the ground.
After votes that were internationally branded as farces, Russia annexed the Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions despite not fully controlling them.
– Orthodox Christmas –
Erdogan has used his good relations with both sides to try and bring Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to Turkey for a peace summit.
Turkey hosted two early rounds of peace talks and helped strike a UN-backed agreement restoring Ukrainian grain deliveries across the Black Sea.
But the Kremlin responded directly to the appeal by Russia’s spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill.
The 76-year-old Orthodox leader, an outspoken supporter of Putin, has given his blessing to Russian troops fighting in Ukraine and delivered heavily anti-Western and anti-Kyiv sermons throughout the conflict.
Kirill made his appeal “so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity of Christ,” he said on the church’s official website Thursday.
The Kremlin’s decision to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022 resulted in many clerics who had continued to remain loyal to Kirill turning away from Moscow.
In May, the Moscow-backed branch of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church severed ties with Russia, citing his lack of condemnation of the fighting.
– Worst single loss –
The ceasefire order came a day after Moscow lifted its reported toll in its worst single reported loss from a Ukrainian strike to 89 dead.
Ukraine’s military strategic communications unit has said nearly 400 Russian soldiers died in the town of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine, held by pro-Russian forces. Even Russian commentators have said the death toll may be far higher than the Kremlin’s figures.
The deadly Makiivka strike came after months of discontent within Russia towards the military following a series of battlefield defeats and a hugely unpopular mobilisation drive.
As Moscow grapples with the aftermath of the strike, the head of the Wagner mercenary outfit said the first group of Russian prisoners offered an amnesty in return for fighting in Ukraine had been released.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared in a video released Thursday speaking to a gathering of men — some injured and whose faces were blurred.
Wagner fighters have been at the forefront of Moscow’s offensive and their presence has also been reported in conflict zones including Syria, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic.
– More arms for Ukraine –
News of Putin’s order came a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced the delivery of French-made AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine, the first western country to deliver tanks.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz faced renewed calls Thursday to deliver Leopard lights tanks long sought by Kyiv.
“The argument constantly advanced by the chancellery that Germany must not go it alone is absolutely out of date,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who heads the German parliament’s defence committee.
“France is once again taking on the role that was expected of Germany, and is going ahead alone,” she told AFP.
Government sources in Berlin said Thursday that both German and the United States were planning a new stage in arms delivers to Ukraine.