Russia-Ukraine War: Putin Orders Brief Unilateral Cease-Fire; Ukraine Calls It ‘Hypocrisy’

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday ordered his military to implement a 36-hour cease-fire along the front line in Ukraine for Orthodox Christmas, and urged the government in Kyiv to do the same, the Kremlin said.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, responded with derision in his nightly address, casting shade on Mr. Putin’s motives. He said Russia wanted “to use Christmas as a cover” to stop Ukrainian advances, regroup and bring more troops up to the front. He gave no indication that Ukraine would abide by a cease-fire, though he did not explicitly rule it out.

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

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.

“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 said Mr. Putin’s order appeared to be a public relations move that he can exploit regardless of Ukraine’s response. If Kyiv agrees to a cease-fire, it would give the Russia’s battered military an opportunity to regroup. If Ukraine ignores the cease-fire, Russia can claim it has the higher moral ground and further vilify Ukraine to the Russian public.

Ukrainian officials immediately cast doubt on the sincerity of Mr. Putin’s announcement, pointing out Russia had bombarded civilians on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. “Their current ‘unilateral cease-fire’ cannot and should not be taken seriously,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said in a Twitter post.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior presidential adviser, 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.

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.

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

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, called Mr. Putin’s cease-fire announcement “cynical,” coming after Russian attacks on civilian targets. He warned that Russia might use a pause in fighting “to rest, to refit, to regroup and ultimately to re-attack.”

“We have little faith in the intentions behind this announcement,” he told reporters at a daily briefing. “I think we know better than to take anything we see or hear from Russia at face value.”

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, said a temporary truce for the Orthodox holiday was welcome would not replace a “just peace in line with the U.N. charter and international law.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said a cease-fire do little to help Ukrainians living in fear under Russian occupation. “If Putin wanted peace, he would take his soldiers home and the war would be over,” she wrote on Twitter. “But evidently he wants to continue the war after a short break.”

Mr. Putin’s announcement came just hours after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I called for a cease-fire to allow Orthodox Christians on the front line to attend services.

It also followed Mr. Putin’s conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has positioned himself as a mediator in the conflict and on Thursday called for a cease-fire.

Megan Specia and Anushka Patil contributed reporting.

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