Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to observe a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine for Russian Orthodox Christmas this weekend and called on Kyiv to do the same.
But the Ukrainians quickly dismissed the move as a propaganda ploy and yet another attempt by Moscow to buy more time for its army to regroup.
«First. Ukraine does not attack foreign territory and does not kill civilians. As [Russia] it does. Ukraine destroys only the members of the occupation army on its territory…” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak responded on Twitter. «Second. [Russia] it must leave the occupied territories; only then will he have a «temporary truce». Keep the hypocrisy to yourself,” he added.
Putin instructed his defense minister to institute the ceasefire «along the entire line of contact between the parties in Ukraine» starting at noon local time (4 a.m. ET) on Friday, the Kremlin said in a statement released on Telegram on Thursday. The proposed Christmas truce would last until midnight local time (4 p.m. ET) on Saturday.
The Russian president did not appear to condition his order on Ukraine agreeing to do the same, and it was unclear what the unilateral announcement would mean for the state of fighting on the front lines of the conflict.
Ukrainian officials dismissed the idea when it was first raised by Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, who enjoys a close association with the government and has provided a kind of spiritual cover for the invasion.
Podolyak had dismissed Kirill’s call as «a cynical trap and a propaganda piece.»
Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov seconded.
«How is a pack of little Kremlin devils related to a Christian holiday?» Danilov wrote On twitter. «Who will believe the scum who kill children, bomb maternity hospitals, torture prisoners? A ceasefire? Lies and hypocrisy. We will bite them in the singing silence of the Ukrainian night.»
The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the old Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7, later than the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox Christians in Ukraine recently began celebrating Christmas on December 25 to show their anger and defiance at Moscow.
«Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ,» Putin said.
Putin’s proposal comes after 10 months of intense fighting.
His campaign in Ukraine suffered a series of setbacks late last year, with counterattacks by the Kyiv army forcing a withdrawal from large areas that the Russian army had seized and that Putin claimed to have annexed in the east and south of the country.
The Kremlin has responded by calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists and intensifying its commitment to the conflict.
With fighting on the ground virtually frozen in the dead of winter, Moscow’s military has bombed civilian targets across Ukraine from the air, including a series of missile strikes on New Year’s Eve.
Kyiv warned that Putin’s regrouped and reinforced army could be planning a major new offensive in the coming months and has urged its Western allies to hand over more powerful weapons.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected to announce sometime on Friday that Bradley Fighting Vehicles, an armored fighting vehicle that can serve as a troop transport, will soon be sent to Ukraine, three US officials told NBC News.
Biden’s announcement will come after he speaks with German Chancellor Scholz on Thursday afternoon, an official said.
While further fueling US and European support for Kyiv, Russia’s ongoing invasion has also stoked rare criticism at home.
Earlier this week, the Russian military blamed the use of cellphones by its soldiers for a Ukrainian missile attack that killed dozens and fueled a new round of internal criticism of how the war is being waged.
The strike dealt another blow to the Kremlin’s public image and renewed criticism of military leaders by nationalist bloggers and pro-war voices at home.
Associated Press, Carol E. read Y courtney kube contributed.