Ukraine Rejects Putin’s Call for a Holiday Truce
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered his troops to stand down for 36 hours so that soldiers would have a chance to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas holiday (the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th).
“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,” reads Putin’s order.
The order – which marks the first time in nearly 11 months that all Russian forces have been asked to stop fighting – did not specify whether Russia would strike back if Ukraine attacked during the 36-hour window.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his troops would not participate in the ceasefire and accused Putin of exploiting the holiday to halt Ukraine’s advances in the east and to give Russian troops a chance to regroup and refit before their next attack. “Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our guys in the Donbas for a while and bring equipment, ammunition, and mobilized people closer to our position,” argued Zelenskyy, whose proposal to facilitate a Russian troop withdrawal before December 25th was rejected.
Washington also criticized the order, with State Department spokesman Ned Price confirming the Biden Administration had “little faith in the intentions behind this announcement” and said Russian officials “have given us no reason to take anything that they offer at face value” – not to mention the fact that Russia showed no respect for Ukrainian holidays that took place during the past month; even going so far as to conduct attacks on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Calling for a truce during the holidays “fits well into Putin’s logic, in which Russia is acting on the right side of history and fighting for justice,” explains political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya. “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’s freeing from the ‘hegemony’ of the United States.”
Indeed, the Russian President made sure to advertise the fact that his call for a ceasefire was based on an appeal from “His Holiness Patriarch Kirill I,” head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The call for a ceasefire was supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly offered to help mediate negations between Russia and Ukraine. Already, Turkish officials have played a major role in negations that enabled the two sides to come to an agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain to poor nations on the verge of famine.
Ukraine is open to the idea of truce only when Russia removes all troops from “occupied territories,” confirmed Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. Russia, on the other hand, demands that Ukraine acknowledge new “territorial realities.”
Russia is still reeling from a New Year’s Eve attack on a temporary barracks in the occupied Ukrainian city of Makiiva that killed 89 servicemen (New Year’s Eve is the most important holiday on Russia’s calendar). The strike marked the highest single loss of life for Russia since the conflict began last February. In total, the war Putin thought he could win in a few days has cost him at least 100,000 casualties.