Jan 5, 2023
Putin orders a surprise 36-hour cease-fire for Orthodox Christmas
Anyone betting on a truce in Ukraine will be sorely mistaken: Kremlin critic Bill Browder
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to cease fighting in Ukraine for 36 hours starting Friday at noon, Moscow time, but Kyiv quickly dismissed the move as a ploy, unlikely to slow a conflict that’s heading for its second year.
The Kremlin said Putin gave the order Thursday for Russian Orthodox Christmas. It follows an appeal by the patriarch of that church, which has close ties to the Kremlin.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismissed the Russian cease-fire announcement, describing it as a bid by Moscow to get a “break in the war to step up the war.”
“They want to use Christmas as cover to halt the offensive of our boys in Donbas at least for a while and redeploy their military vehicles, ammunition and mobilized men closer to our positions,” he said in his nightly address. “What will that bring? Just more casualties.”
Kyiv has demanded Moscow remove its troops from Ukraine as a condition for any cease-fire.
“I’m reluctant to respond to anything Putin says,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in response to a question about the offer. “I found it interesting - he was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches on the 25th and New Year’s — I mean, I think he’s trying to find some oxygen.”
The move comes as Putin’s forces have for months lost ground to Ukrainian advances and the Kremlin has in recent weeks stepped up missile and drone strikes on the country’s urban centers and civilian power infrastructure. In response, Kyiv’s allies are boosting military aid, pledging to supply armored vehicles and other weapons not previously provided.
For Putin, the offer is “a play at generosity for the public,” Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik political consultant, wrote on Telegram. She noted that after Ukrainian missile strikes on Jan. 1 killed scores of Russian troops in occupied territory, “he certainly doesn’t want something like that to happen on Christmas.”
Andrey Kortunov, head of the Kremlin-founded Russia International Affairs Council, said the move was an effort to “probe the positions of Ukraine and the West,” putting the ball in Kyiv’s court. But he conceded that “a lasting truce now is impossible.”
Putin’s announcement followed hours after he reiterated that Russia would conduct serious negotiations only “provided that the Kyiv authorities fulfill the well-known and repeatedly voiced demands and take into account the new territorial realities,” according to a Kremlin statement. That was a reference to Moscow’s demands that Ukraine give up territory claimed by Russia.
Those comments came in a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called on the Russian leader to impose a unilateral cease-fire to show his seriousness about talks, according to Ankara’s account of the call. Erdogan later spoke with Zelenskiy, who reiterated his position that Russian troops must leave his territory for the war to end.
Ukraine’s forces have been advancing for months, forcing Russian troops out of as much as 40 per cent of the territory they initially took in the invasion. The Kremlin has said it still aims to reverse the setbacks and Kyiv’s battlefield progress has slowed in recent weeks, but Russian troops have so far failed to retake significant ground.
“It’s strange to announce a cease-fire when you’re on the defensive,” Stanovaya wrote. “It’s like saying, ‘to all my creditors, I forgive my debts.’”