The Ukrainian government has reacted with suspicion to Vladimir Putin’s order for a 36-hour ceasefire on the front lines of the war during Orthodox Christmas celebrations. The Russian leader issued the instruction to all troops fighting in Ukraine via his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in response to a petition from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Kyiv immediately responded when the decree was made, accusing Moscow of “a cynical trap and an element of propaganda.” No senior political or military official has explicitly stated that hostilities will continue, but it has been made clear that Kyiv will not abide by the Russian proposal. “Let’s talk clearly: who is this ceasefire aimed at? Themselves? Ukraine will not negotiate a Christmas truce with Russia,” Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksii Danilov said in a television interview on Thursday.
Kyiv’s Western allies have also expressed their doubts over the veracity of Moscow’s truce, which is scheduled to run from 12pm local time on January 6 to midnight on January 7. US President Joe Biden echoed the Ukrainian government by describing it as a propaganda move and suggested Putin is “trying to find some oxygen.” “I’m reluctant to respond to anything that Putin says. I found it interesting that he was willing to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches on the 25th and New Year’s,” Biden added.
German’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock also expressed skepticism, stating that if Putin wanted peace, he would withdraw his troops from Ukraine. The Baltic states and the president of the European Commission, Charles Michel, accused Moscow of hypocrisy while the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, said that while any cessation of hostilities would be welcome, it would not be a substitute for a “just peace.”
“How does a pack of petty Kremlin devils relate to a Christian holiday? Who will believe scum that kills children, bombards maternity hospitals, tortures prisoners? A ceasefire? Lies and hypocrisy,” Danilov wrote on social media, adding poetically: “We will bite you in the singing silence of the Ukrainian night.” A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Time journalist Simon Shuster: “It is a purely propagandistic gesture, nothing more.”
Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, laid out Kyiv’s negotiating stance, based on the 10-point peace plan presented by Zelenskiy in November: “Any truce or ceasefire is only possible after Russia has completely left Ukrainian soil, including Crimea. Negotiations are only possible on the issues of reparations for the damage caused to Ukraine and on compensations for the tens of thousands of lives lost.”
How does a pack of petty kremlin devils relate to a Christian holiday? Who will believe scum that kills children, bombards maternity hospitals, tortures prisoners? A ceasefire? Lies and hypocrisy. We will bite you in the singing silence of the Ukrainian night.— Oleksiy Danilov (@OleksiyDanilov) January 5, 2023
Despite this broad mistrust of the Kremlin’s ceasefire, the mere fact of Putin’s decree presents a dilemma for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Appearing to not support the Russian initiative could generate discontent among Western allies, upon whose military and financial support Kyiv relies. Iuliia Mendel, a former spokesperson for Zelenskiy, acknowledged the problem on social media: “What does this unreliable ‘ceasefire’ mean for Ukraine? Shall we abandon our fight, stop trying to kick out Russians from Ukraine? Just watch the aggressive army standing in our land and adapting there? It is clear that the world is making efforts in stopping Putin’s war in Ukraine. The world wants peace and tries to find the way for it.”
Igor Novikov, also a former advisor to the Ukrainian president, noted in a video shared on social media that if Ukrainian forces continue to fight during the ceasefire, it will provide a valuable propaganda tool for the Kremlin to persuade public opinion that Kyiv is not interested in peace proposals. However, Novikov also stated he is convinced that the temporary truce is a Russian ruse to simulate false flag Ukrainian attacks.
Herashchenko suggested that the Kremlin’s order provided evidence that Russian forces in Ukraine are at a low ebb. “Putin and his troops are weaker. They want to take advantage of any lull to halt the destruction of soldiers and equipment.” In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have stopped a Russian attempt to take Bakhmut, a strategic city in the Donbas and a military priority for the Kremlin, in its tracks.
Mendel and other Ukrainian analysts also noted that during the Donbas conflict that erupted almost 10 years ago, starting with the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015, Moscow systematically breached ceasefire agreements to gain advantage on the ground. Russia also accused Ukraine of ignoring those truces in the region.
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