Putin, Ukraine war, Prigozhin, Wagner group
The three-hour meeting with Putin on June 29 involved not only Prigozhin but commanders from his Wagner Group, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said | File photo

Putin orders weekend truce in Ukraine; Kyiv won’t take part

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday (January 5) ordered his armed forces to observe a unilateral 36-hour cease-fire in Ukraine this weekend for the Orthodox Christmas holiday, the first such sweeping truce move in the nearly 11-month-old war.

Ukraine, however, was clear that it wouldn’t implement the same. Putin did not appear to make his cease-fire order conditional on Ukraine’s acceptance, and it wasn’t clear whether hostilities would actually halt on the 1,100-km (684-mile) front line or elsewhere.

Also read: Russia wants to “end the war” in Ukraine: Putin

Ukraine’s officials have earlier dubbed such measures as a ploy by Russia to buy more time to regroup its forces and prepare additional attacks.

At various points during the war that began on February 24, Russian authorities have ordered limited, local truces to allow civilian evacuations or other humanitarian purposes. However, Putin’s Thursday order was the first when he directed his military to observe a ceasefire 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 ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ,” according to Putin’s order to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, published on the Kremlin’s website.

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 dismissed Putin’s move. Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Russian forces must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a temporary truce. “Keep hypocrisy to yourself.” Ukraine’s National Security Council chief Oleksiy Danilov told Ukrainian TV: “We will not negotiate any truces with them.” “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,” he said in another tweet.

Putin trying to find some oxygen: Biden

US president Joe 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, “Kremlin officials have given us no reason to take anything that they offer at face value. It does not appear to be a strategic change in in Russia’s plan or its approach,” he said.

Also read: Zelenskyy says war ends with Ukraine’s sovereignty restored, payback for Russia

“It appears to be a bid to continue to do what it has inflicted upon the Ukrainian people for nearly a year now as it seeks to rest, refit, regroup, and ultimately re-attack.”

UN 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 after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, proposed a truce from noon Friday through midnight Saturday Moscow time (0900 GMT Friday to 2100 GMT Saturday; 4 a.m. EST Friday to 3 p.m. EST Saturday). The Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7, later than the Gregorian calendar although some Ukrainian Christians also mark the holiday on that date. Kirill has previously called the war part of Russia’s metaphysical struggle to prevent a Western liberal ideological encroachment.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had proposed a Russian troop withdrawal earlier, before December 25, but Moscow rejected it.

(With inputs from agencies)

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