Ukraine rejects Putin’s 36-hour ceasefire for Orthodox Christmas

Kyiv says Moscow’s declaration of truce, after Russian president cited appeal from patriarch, is ‘hypocrisy’

Ukraine has rejected an announcement by Vladimir Putin of a 36-hour ceasefire to mark Orthodox Christmas, saying there will be no truce until Russia removes its invading forces from occupied land.

The Kremlin said Putin had ordered his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, to introduce a temporary ceasefire along the entire line of contact in Ukraine for Orthodox Christmas from midday on Friday to midnight on Saturday.

“Taking into account the appeal of his holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the minister of defence of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact of the parties in Ukraine from 12.00 on 6 January 2023 to 24.00 on 7 January 2023,” Putin’s order, addressed to Shoigu and published on the Kremlin’s website, stated.

“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 allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day,” Putin added.

Many Orthodox Christians, including those living in Russia and Ukraine, celebrate Christmas on 6-7 January. Since the war began, some Ukrainians are choosing to celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, rather than the Julian calendar still used by the Russian Orthodox church.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismissed Russia’s ceasefire announcement, saying that Moscow had only made the announcement to halt Ukrainian advances in the eastern Donbas region and mobilise more men.

“They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to stop the advances of our boys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunitions and mobilised troops closer to our positions,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

The Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called Russia’s declaration a “hypocrisy.”

Russia “must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a ‘temporary truce’. Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” Podolyak tweeted.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, similarly dismissed Russia’s ceasefire proposal, accusing Moscow of “hiding behind a Christian holiday”.

“There is a simple solution: they pick up their suitcases, pick up their trash and go to Russia. That’s it,” Danilov told the Kanal 24 channel.

Separately, he tweeted: “What does a bunch of little Kremlin devils have to do with the Christian holiday of Christmas? Who will believe an abomination that kills children, shells maternity homes, and tortures prisoners?”

Ukraine’s western allies also criticised Russia’s ceasefire proposal.

Talking to reporters at the White House on Thursday, the US president, Joe Biden, said Putin was “trying to find some oxygen” by floating the idea, while Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said if Putin really wanted peace “he would bring his soldiers home”.

“A so-called ceasefire brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation,” Baerbock tweeted.

And British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly wrote on Twitter: “A 36 hour pause of Russian attacks will do nothing to advance the prospects for peace.”

Kirill, a close ally of Putin, has emerged as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner founder, announced on Thursday morning that the first inmates recruited by his private military group had received their promised pardons after fighting for six months in Ukraine.

“They worked off their contract. They worked with honour, with dignity. They were the first ones. Nobody else in this world works as hard as they did,” Prigozhin told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti, standing alongside former convicts.

Addressing the men, Prigozhin instructed them not to end up back in jail. “The police will treat you with respect now … Don’t drink a lot, don’t use drugs, and don’t rape women. Only [have sex] for love or money,” he said, a statement that was met with laughter. “Don’t steal, you have enough money for now,” he added.

Since last summer Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” because his catering business hosted dinners attended by the Russian president, has recruited tens of thousands of prisoners to compensate for acute shortages of men on the battlefield. Each convict reportedly received up to £3,000 a month for fighting in Wagner.

A screengrab shows Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing inmates in a Russian prison offering them freedom for fighting in Ukraine for six months.
A screengrab shows Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing inmates in a Russian prison offering them freedom for fighting in Ukraine for six months. Photograph: Twitter

In one leaked video, Prigozhin is seen visiting one of the jails, telling prisoners they would be freed if they served six months with his group.

According to Olga Romanova, the head of Russia Behind Bars, a prisoners’ rights NGO, about 40,000 convicts have so far been recruited from Russian prisons to fight in Ukraine. She said many had died in the attempt to capture the Donbas city of Bakhmut.

She and other human rights workers described Prigozhin’s practice of recruiting and pardoning prisoners as “completely illegal and unconstitutional”.

There have been reports of Wagner prisoners being executed by their commanders for desertion.

In November, Prigozhin welcomed the brutal murder of Yevgeny Nuzhin, a convicted murderer recruited by Wagner who surrendered to Ukrainian forces but was later allegedly handed over to Russia.

Prigozhin issued a statement saying the clip showing Nuzhin killed by a sledgehammer blow to his head should be titled “a dog receives a dog’s death”.


Pjotr Sauer

The GuardianTramp

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