Putin orders 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered his armed forces to observe a unilateral 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine this weekend for the Orthodox Christmas holidays, the first such radical truce in almost 11 months. old war.

Putin did not appear to condition his ceasefire order on a Ukrainian agreement to follow suit, and it was unclear whether hostilities would actually stop at the 1,100-kilometre (684-mile) front line. ) or elsewhere. Ukrainian officials have previously dismissed Russian peace measures as playing to buy time to regroup their forces and prepare for further attacks.

At various points in the war that began on February 24, Russian authorities ordered limited and local truces to allow the evacuation of civilians or for other humanitarian purposes. Thursday’s order was the first time Putin had ordered his troops to observe a ceasefire across Ukraine.

“Since a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat zones, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as the day of the Nativity of Christ”, according to the order of Putin, addressed to the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and published on the website of the Kremlin.

While not necessarily Kyiv’s official last word, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Russian forces “must leave the occupied territories – only then will there be a ‘temporary truce.’ hypocrisy for you.

US President Joe Biden declined to comment directly, but said at the White House on Thursday that it was “interesting” that Putin was prepared to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches over Christmas and the New Year. “I think that he’s trying to find oxygen,” he said.

Putin acted on the suggestion of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who offered a truce from noon Friday to midnight Saturday Moscow time (0900 GMT Friday to 2100 GMT Saturday; 0400 EST Friday to 1500 EST Saturday) . The Orthodox Church, which uses the old Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7 – later than the Gregorian calendar – although some Christians in Ukraine also mark the holiday on this date.

Podolyak previously dismissed Kirill’s appeal as “a cynical trap and piece of propaganda”. President Volodymyr Zelensky had proposed a withdrawal of Russian troops earlier, before December 25, but Russia rejected it.

Kirill has previously justified the war as part of Russia’s “metaphysical struggle” to prevent liberal ideological encroachment from the West.

Independent political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said Putin’s ceasefire order was meant to make him appear reasonable and interested in peace.

The move “fits well with Putin’s logic, in which Russia acts on the right side of history and fights for justice,” she said.

“We must not forget that 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 liberates from ‘the’ hegemony’ of the United States,” Stanovaya, founder of independent think tank R.Politik, wrote on Telegram.

She also linked Putin’s decision to the recent strike by Ukrainian forces on Makiivka that killed at least 89 Russian servicemen. “He really doesn’t want to get something like this for Christmas,” the analyst said.

On the rainy streets of Kyiv, some questioned the sincerity of the Russians in discussing a truce.

“Are we going to believe the Russians? Svitlana Zhereva wondered after Kirill’s proposal. “On the one hand, they gave their blessing to war and murder, and on the other hand, they want to portray themselves as saints who are against bloodshed. But they must be judged on their actions.

Putin issued the truce order after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged him in a phone call on Thursday to implement a “unilateral ceasefire”, according to the Turkish president’s office. The Kremlin said the Russian president “reaffirmed Russia’s openness to serious dialogue” with Ukrainian authorities.

Erdogan also told Zelenskyy later by phone that Turkey was ready to negotiate a “lasting peace”. Erdogan frequently made such offers, helped broker a deal allowing Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain, and facilitated a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia’s stated readiness for the peace talks came with the usual preconditions: that “Kyiv authorities fulfill well-known and repeated demands and recognize new territorial realities”, the Kremlin said, referring to the insistence of Moscow for Ukraine to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and to recognize other illegal territorial gains.

Previous attempts at peace talks have failed over Russian territorial claims as Ukraine insists that Russia withdraw from occupied areas.

Elsewhere, the NATO chief detected no change in Moscow’s stance on Ukraine, insisting the Kremlin “wants a Europe where it can control a neighboring country”.

“We have no indication that President Putin has changed his plans, his goals for Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Oslo, Norway.

NATO countries are stepping up their military support for Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated weapons.

In the latest engagement, the French Defense Ministry said it plans to discuss with its Ukrainian counterpart soon the delivery of armored fighting vehicles. The French presidency said it would be the first time this type of Western-made wheeled tank destroyer would be sent to the Ukrainian army.

In the United States, Biden said Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a medium armored fighting vehicle that can serve as a troop carrier, could be sent to Ukraine.

As more weapons arrive, the situation on the battlefield seems to have settled into a stalemate, increasingly a 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 at least five civilians had been killed and eight injured across the country by Russian shelling in the past 24 hours.

An intense battle left 60% of the eastern town of Bakhmut in ruins, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Thursday. The Ukrainian defenders seem to hold back the Russians. Taking the city in the Donbass region, a vast industrial area bordering Russia, would not only give Putin a major battlefield win after months of setbacks, but would sever Ukraine’s supply lines and open up the way for forces from Moscow to move towards the main Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

In what appeared to be a move to entice more men to join the fight, the first convicts recruited for the battle by the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, received a government-promised pardon after serving six months. on the front line.

A video released by the state news agency RIA Novosti shows Yevgeny Prigozhin, the millionaire owner of the Wagner Group, shaking hands with around 20 pardoned men.

The White House said last month that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 recruited convicts. The United States estimates that Wagner spends around $100 million a month on the fight.

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Video journalist Bela Szandelszky in Kyiv and Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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