Putin orders temporary ceasefire to mark Orthodox Christmas

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By Euronews  with AP and AFP
FILE - Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, left, talks to President Vladimir Putin, right, in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on April 28, 2019.
FILE - Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, left, talks to President Vladimir Putin, right, in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, on April 28, 2019.   -   Copyright  Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his troops to hold a thirty-six-hour ceasefire during Orthodox Christmas. The move follows a request by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill to allow Orthodox people in both countries "to attend religious services".

“Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas, 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,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

The 76-year-old Orthodox leader is a staunch supporter of Putin. And he had previously given his blessing to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine and delivered heavily anti-Western and anti-Kyiv sermons throughout the conflict.

But ahead of the holiday season, Kirill appealed to "all parties involved in the internecine conflict with a call to cease fire and establish a Christmas truce from 12:00 on January 6 to 00:00 on January 7 so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity of Christ."

AP Photo
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, center, and Russian senior military officers attend a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.AP Photo

Erdogan’s call for unilateral ceasefire

The Russian Patriarch's calls were followed by a similar request by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has asked Putin for a unilateral ceasefire as a prelude to peace talks.

Before calling for the truce on Thursday, the Kremlin said Putin had responded that Russia was willing to enter into talks "on the condition of the Kyiv authorities fulfilling the well-known and repeatedly voiced requirements of taking into account the new territorial realities".

Moscow claims to have annexed four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine. It now only has partial military control over these regions.

The 36-hour ceasefire ordered by Putin will begin on Friday at 12.00 Moscow time and extend along the entire frontline in Ukraine.

Putin did not appear to make his ceasefire order conditional on a Ukrainian agreement to follow suit, and it is not clear whether hostilities would halt on the 1,100-kilometre front line or elsewhere.

At various points during the war, Russian authorities have ordered limited truces to allow evacuations of civilians or other humanitarian purposes. Thursday’s order was the first time Putin has directed his troops to observe a ceasefire throughout Ukraine.

Kyiv dubs Putin’s temporary ceasefire ‘hypocrisy’

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had proposed a Russian troop withdrawal before 25 December, but Russia rejected it.

Some Ukrainian officials have responded to the call with scepticism.

Mykhailo Podolyak responds to Russia's call for a Christmas ceasefire

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Russian forces “must leave the occupied territories -- only then will it have a ‘temporary truce.’ Keep hypocrisy to yourself.”

The head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told Ukrainian TV: “We will not negotiate any truces with them.”

And US President Joe Biden said it was “interesting” that Putin was ready to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches on Christmas and New Year’s. “I think he’s trying to find some oxygen,” he said.