Kremlin-ordered truce uncertain due to suspected motives
Russia’s declared truce in the nearly 11-month war began at noon on Friday and was set to last until midnight Saturday Moscow time (09:00 GMT Friday to 21:00 GMT Saturday; 4:00 a.m. EST Friday to 4:00 p.m. EST Saturday). There were no immediate reports of a breakup.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv about 40 minutes after the Russian ceasefire came into effect, but no explosions were heard. A widely used Ukraine Alerts app, which includes information from emergency services, showed sirens blaring across the country.
Putin’s announcement on Thursday that Kremlin troops would stop fighting along the 1,100-kilometre (684-mile) front line or elsewhere was unexpected. It came after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, proposed a ceasefire for the Orthodox Christmas holiday this weekend. The Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7.
But Ukrainian and Western officials suspected an ulterior motive in Putin’s apparent gesture of goodwill.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy questioned the Kremlin’s intentions, accusing it of planning the pause in fighting “to continue the war with renewed vigor”.
“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our guys in the (eastern) Donbass (region) for a while and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized people closer to our positions,” said Zelenskyy Thursday evening.
He, however, did not say outright that Kyiv would ignore Putin’s request.
US President Joe Biden echoed Zelenskyy’s wariness, saying it was “interesting” that Putin was prepared to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches over Christmas and New Years.
“I think (Putin) is trying to find some oxygen,” Biden said, without giving further details.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had “little confidence in the intentions behind this announcement”, adding that Kremlin officials “gave us no reason to take anything they offer for cash”.
The truce order appears to be a ploy “to rest, reorganize, regroup and eventually attack again”, he said.
The Institute for the Study of War agreed that the truce could be a ruse allowing Russia to regroup.
“Such a pause would disproportionately benefit Russian troops and begin to rob Ukraine of the initiative,” the think tank said Thursday evening. “Putin cannot reasonably expect Ukraine to abide by the terms of this suddenly declared ceasefire, and may have called for the ceasefire to portray Ukraine as unaccommodating and unwilling to take the necessary steps for negotiations.”
Washington says it is ready to continue supporting Ukraine’s war effort. On Friday, the United States was to announce nearly $3 billion in military aid to Ukraine – a major new package that was for the first time to include several dozen Bradley fighting vehicles.
The malaise between the belligerents showed no signs of easing, despite the Christmas context.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said those who rejected Putin’s proposal for a Christmas truce were “clowns” and “pigs”.
“The hand of Christian mercy has been extended to Ukrainians,” he said in a Telegram message. “But pigs have no faith and no innate sense of gratitude.”
Some civilians on the streets of Kyiv said they spoke from bitter experience in doubting Russia’s motives.
“Everyone is preparing (for an attack), because everyone remembers what happened on New Year’s Day when there were around 40 Shahed (Iranian drones),” a local resident said. , Vasyl Kuzmenko. “But anything is possible.”
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