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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Putin orders brief unilateral cease-fire for his forces in Ukraine

Ukrainian service members work to salvage equipment and parts from a broken T-72 tank, at left, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.

By Anatoly Kurmanaev, Cassandra Vinograd and Alina Lobzina

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has ordered his military to implement a 36-hour cease-fire along the front line in Ukraine for the Russian Orthodox Christmas, the Kremlin said Thursday.

A senior Ukrainian official quickly dismissed the move as a “banal trick” and a “propaganda gesture.” Ukraine previously has accused Russia of violating a humanitarian cease-fire earlier in the war and has expressed skepticism over Moscow’s past pledges to exercise military restraint.

Putin called for a unilateral cease-fire, which would be the broadest of its kind since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, that would last from midday Friday until midnight Saturday, the Kremlin said. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed it had received the order to implement the cease-fire.

“Given that a large number of citizens practicing Orthodoxy resides in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to announce a cease-fire and give them an opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve and the day of Christ’s birth,” the Kremlin statement said.

Analysts characterized Putin’s order as a public relations ploy that he would seek to exploit regardless of Ukraine’s response. If Ukraine agrees to a cease-fire, it would give the Russian military an opportunity to regroup its battered units. If Ukraine ignores the cease-fire, Russia can claim higher moral ground and use ongoing hostilities to further vilify Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public.

A senior Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, wrote on Twitter that Moscow’s troops “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a ‘temporary truce,’” adding, “Keep hypocrisy to yourself.” In a separate statement, he called the cease-fire order a “propaganda gesture” and a “banal trick.”

“There is not the slightest desire to end the war,” he said.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said it appeared to him that Putin was “trying to find some oxygen” with the cease-fire announcement. “I am reluctant to respond anything Putin says,” Biden said. “I found it interesting, he was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches on the 25th and New Year’s.”

Some pro-war Russian nationalists also dismissed the proposal, underlining the depth of mutual animosity.

“We — Russian soldiers and volunteers — don’t want any compromises,” an influential military blogger, Vladlen Tatarsky, wrote on the Telegram messaging app after Putin’s announcement. “We want to kill every person dressed in the uniform of the enemy’s army.”

Russia’s announcement came hours after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, who is a close ally of Putin, called for a cease-fire to allow Orthodox Christians on both sides of the front line to attend church services. Russia celebrates Orthodox holidays based on the Julian calendar, as do some Ukrainians, which is different from the Gregorian calendar used by majority-Catholic and Protestant nations.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has positioned himself as a mediator in the conflict, spoke to Putin on Thursday and also called for a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Some Ukrainians, especially in the western part of the country, observe Christmas on Dec. 25, and on Christmas Eve, Russian shelling killed at least 10 people in the recently recaptured Ukrainian city of Kherson.

Ukrainian officials have already accused Russia of marring the run-up to Orthodox Christmas with continued attacks on civilians. A Russian strike Thursday in the Kherson region killed a family of three, including a 12-year-old boy, that was preparing to celebrate Christmas together at home, officials said.

“They talk about the ‘Christmas truce’ in the morning, and they kill a whole family by lunchtime,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, wrote on Telegram.

Pro-Russian officials said Ukraine has also hit civilian targets in occupied towns this week, including a hospital in the town of Tokmok in the Zaporizhzhia region, which left six people dead.

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