Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine to run during Orthodox Christmas, a move quickly dismissed by war-battered Kyiv and its allies.
Putin’s directive to his troops was announced days after Moscow suffered its deadliest reported loss of the invasion, following 11 months of brutal combat — and as Ukraine’s allies indicated that fresh military aid was on the way.
Both nations celebrate Orthodox Christmas and the Russian leader’s order came following ceasefire calls from 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 12:00 (0900 GMT) January 6, until 24:00 (2100 GMT) on January 7, the Kremlin said.
Kyiv quickly denounced the move.
Russia “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a ‘temporary truce’,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter. “Keep hypocrisy to yourself.”
US President Joe Biden was equally dismissive of Putin’s announcement.
“He was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches” on December 25 and on New Year’s Day, he said. “I think he’s trying to find some oxygen.”
And German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on Twitter: “A so-called ceasefire brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation.”
– Orthodox Christmas –
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.
After votes that were internationally branded as farces, Russia annexed the Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions despite not fully controlling them.
Putin is open to dialogue with Ukraine if Kyiv recognises “the new territorial realities”, said the Kremlin, in a summary of his telephone conversation with Erdogan Thursday.
“The Russian side emphasised the destructive role of Western states, pumping the Kyiv regime with weapons and military equipment, providing it with operational information and targets,” it added.
The Kremlin’s response was directed to the ceasefire appeal by Russia’s spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill, an outspoken supporter of Putin.
The 76-year-old Orthodox leader 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.
– More arms for Ukraine –
News of Putin’s ceasefire order came as German government sources told AFP Thursday both Berlin and Washington were planning a “qualitative new step” in their weapons deliveries to Ukraine.
“We are constantly looking at what more we can do in terms of military support,” Germany’s Baerbock told journalists Thursday, including “defensive weapons” and arms needed to “free occupied territory”.
Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced renewed calls to deliver Leopard light tanks, long sought by Kyiv, after French President Emmanuel Macron announced the delivery of French-made AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine.
Macron’s announcement on Wednesday made France the first western country to announce the delivery of such weapons to Ukraine.
“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.
– Worst single loss –
Putin’s 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.