Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has rejected out of hand a Russian order for a truce over the Orthodox Christmas period, saying the proposed ceasefire is a trick to halt the Ukraine army’s progress in the eastern Donbas region and allow Moscow to bring in more troops.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a 36-hour ceasefire – which will run from midday Friday (09:00 GMT) until the end of Saturday (21:00 GMT) – after a call for a Christmas truce by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
“Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact of the parties in Ukraine…” the Kremlin said in a statement citing Putin.
The order did not specify whether the ceasefire would apply to both offensive and defensive operations by Russia, and it was not clear whether Russia would hit back if Ukraine kept fighting.
Speaking pointedly in Russian and addressing the Kremlin and Russians as a whole on Thursday night, Zelenskyy said Moscow had repeatedly ignored Kyiv’s peace plan.
“They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to stop the advances of our boys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilised troops closer to our positions,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“What will that give them? Only yet another increase in their total losses.”
“The whole world knows how the Kremlin uses interruptions in the war to continue the war with new strength,” Zelenskyy said.
The war would end, he said, when Russian troops left Ukraine or were thrown out.
Russia’s Orthodox Church observes Christmas on January 7. Ukraine’s main Orthodox Church has been recognised as independent and rejects any notion of allegiance to the Moscow patriarch. Many Ukrainian believers have also shifted their calendar to celebrate Christmas on December 25 as in the West.
Directing his address to Russian people, Zelenskyy said that ending the war meant “ending your country’s aggression … This continues every day that your soldiers are on our soil … And the war will end either when your soldiers leave or we throw them out”.
The Ukrainian leader also urged Russians to challenge Putin and his portrayal of the war as necessary to safeguard Moscow’s interests against the West.
“In order to end the war more quickly, we need something completely different. We need Russian citizens to find the courage in themselves, albeit for 36 hours, albeit during Christmas, to free themselves of the shameful fear of one man in the Kremlin.”
United States 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, Biden said.
“I think he’s trying to find some oxygen,” he added.
The Institute for the Study of War said that Putin’s surprise ceasefire announcement was “an intentional information tactic” designed to portray Ukraine as the aggressor, and a pause in fighting now would primarily benefit Russian forces.
“The announcement of a ceasefire within 24 hours of when it is meant to enter into force suggests that it was announced with the intention of framing Ukrainian forces who continue to fight throughout the timeframe of the ceasefire as unwilling to work towards peace and wanting to fight at all costs,” the Institute said in a briefing paper on Thursday.
“Such a pause would disproportionately benefit Russian troops and begin to deprive Ukraine of the initiative,” the institute said.
NEW: #Putin’s announcement that Russian forces will conduct a 36-hour ceasefire in observance of Russian Orthodox Christmas is likely an information operation intended to damage #Ukraine’s reputation. https://t.co/v9UjOap837 pic.twitter.com/MgBPo2FRQh
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) January 6, 2023
European Council President Charles Michel said that Russia’s withdrawal was the “only serious option to restore peace and security”.
“Announcement of unilateral ceasefire is as bogus and hypocritical as the illegal and grotesque annexations and accompanying referenda,” Michel said in a tweet, referring to the four Ukrainian regions Russia claimed to have annexed in September 2022.
There’s an aggressor: the Kremlin. And a victim:the Ukrainian people. Withdrawal of Russian troops is only serious option to restore peace & security. Announcement of unilateral ceasefire is as bogus & hypocritical as the illegal & grotesque annexations and accompanying referenda
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) January 5, 2023
Germany‘s 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.”
Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said the ceasefire order “fits well into Putin’s logic, in which Russia is acting on the right side of history and fighting for justice”.
“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,” she said.
Ukraine has claimed that as many as 400 Russian soldiers were killed in the Makiivka attack, which took place in the first few minutes of the New Year on Sunday.