At various points during the war that began on February 24, Russian authorities ordered limited, local ceasefires to allow for civilian evacuations or other humanitarian purposes. Thursday’s order was the first time Putin ordered his troops to observe a ceasefire across Ukraine.
“Based on the fact that a large number of professed Orthodox civilians live in the battle zones, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity,” said Putin’s order.
The order did not specify whether it would apply to both offensive and defensive operations. For example, it was not clear whether Russia would retaliate if Ukraine continued to fight.
Ukrainian officials from Zelenskky and beyond rejected Putin’s moves.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy stopped short of saying his troops would reject Putin’s request to suspend fighting, instead questioning the Russian leadership’s motives.
“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our boys in the Donbas for a while and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized people closer to our positions,” Zelenskyy said. “What will it give? Just another increase in losses.”
Zelenskyy claimed that since he unveiled a peace plan in November, nearly 110,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, accusing the Kremlin of planning the battle break “to continue the war with renewed vigor.”
The most comprehensive recent Western estimate of Russia’s military losses came from a senior US military official, who said in November that about 100,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded. The Russian authorities have not provided a recent figure for their military casualties.
Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Russian troops “must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a ‘temporary truce’.”
The chief of the National Security Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, told Ukrainian TV: “We will not negotiate a ceasefire with them.”
He also tweeted: “What does a bunch of little Kremlin fiends have to do with the Christian holiday of Christmas? Who would believe an abomination that kills children, burns maternity hospitals and tortures prisoners? A ceasefire? Lies and hypocrisy. We will bite you in the singing silence of the Ukrainian night.”
US President Joe Biden said it was “interesting” that Putin was willing to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches over Christmas and New Year. “I think he’s trying to find some oxygen,” he said without elaborating.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had “little confidence in the intentions behind this announcement,” adding that Kremlin officials “have given us no reason to take anything they offer at face value.” . He said the ceasefire order appears to be a ploy “to equip, refit, regroup and finally attack again”.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric welcomed the move but said it “will not replace a just peace in accordance with the UN Charter and international law”.
Putin acted after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, proposed a ceasefire from 12pm Friday to midnight Moscow time on Saturday (9am GMT Friday to 9pm GMT Saturday; 4am EST Friday to 3pm EST Saturday) . The Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7.
Kirill previously called the war part of Russia’s “metaphysical struggle” to prevent Western liberal ideological encroachment.
Zelenskyy had proposed starting a path to peace with a withdrawal of Russian troops before December 25, but Moscow rejected it.
Political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said the ceasefire order “fits well into Putin’s logic, in which Russia acts on the right side of history and fights for justice.”
“In this war, Putin feels like a ‘good guy’, doing good not only for himself and the ‘fraternal nations’, but also for the world he liberates from the ‘hegemony’ of the United States,” said Stanovaya, founder from the independent think tank R.Politik, wrote on Telegram.
She also linked Putin’s action to the Ukrainian army’s recent attack on Makiivka that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers. “He really doesn’t want something like that for Christmas,” she said.
Ukrainians reacted suspiciously.
“There were no ceasefires on March 8 (Women’s Day), (Ukrainian) Independence Day, Christmas (December 25) and New Year. Why would there be one now?” said Sophieia Romanovska, a 21-year-old student who fled Mariupol to Kiev, peppering her remarks with expletives.
Putin issued the ceasefire order after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged him in a phone call to implement a “unilateral ceasefire,” the Turkish president’s office said. The Kremlin said Putin reaffirmed “Russia’s openness to serious dialogue” with Ukrainian authorities.
Erdogan later told Zelenskyy that Turkey was ready to mediate for a “lasting peace.” Erdogan has regularly made such offers, helping broker a deal that would allow Ukraine to export grain and facilitating the exchange of prisoners.
Russia’s professed readiness for peace talks came with the usual conditions: that “Kiev’s authorities comply with well-known and repeated demands and recognize new territorial realities,” the Kremlin said, referring to Moscow’s demand that Ukraine enter Crimea and other illegal territories. recognized seized territory as part of Russia.
Previous attempts at peace talks have failed over Moscow’s territorial demands as Ukraine insists Russia withdraw from occupied territories.
Coupled with talk of diplomacy on Thursday were new pledges of military support to Ukraine. Zelenskyy called the pledges “a really big win for our state”.
Germany said it would follow a US announcement last month to supply Ukraine with a Patriot missile battery, the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the West has delivered to Kiev.
Germany also said it would provide Marder armored personnel carriers, and France said it will consult with Ukraine on the supply of armored fighting vehicles capable of destroying tanks.
US officials said they will send Ukraine nearly $3 billion in military aid in a new package that will include several dozen Bradley combat vehicles for the first time. The aim is to get as much aid as possible to the Ukrainian armed forces before spring sets in and fighting intensifies. An announcement was expected on Friday, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as details of the package had not been announced.
The Kremlin claims that the supply of weapons from the West to Ukraine is prolonging the conflict.
As more weapons arrive, the situation on the battlefield seems to have reached a stalemate and war of attrition. As winter sets in, the mobility of troops and equipment is more limited.
In the latest fighting, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said Thursday that Russian shelling in the past 24 hours has killed at least five civilians and wounded eight.
An intense battle has left 60% of the eastern city of Bakhmut in ruins, Donetsk government leader Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Ukrainian defenders appear to hold back the Russians. Taking the city in the Donbas region, a vast industrial area bordering Russia, would not only give Putin a major battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but would also sever Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Moscow’s troops to advance to important Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
In what appeared to be an attempt to entice more men to join the battle, the first convicts recruited into battle by the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, were promised pardons by the government after serving six months on the front line. A video released by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti shows Yevgeny Prigozhin, the millionaire owner of the Wagner Group, shaking hands with about 20 pardoned men.
Associated Press journalists Bela Szandelszky in Kiev, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington, and Andrew Katell in New York contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine