The impact of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for his forces in Ukraine to observe a unilateral, 36-hour ceasefire is in doubt after Kyiv officials dismissed the move as a ploy.
Ukranian officials did not clarify whether Ukrainian troops will follow suit. Moscow did not say whether it will hit back if Ukraine keeps fighting.
President Putin ordered Russian forces to hold a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine this weekend for the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday, the Kremlin said. It followed a proposal from the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill.
It has previously been slammed by Ukraine, with presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed the call as “a cynical trap and an element of propaganda”. He also called the proposal a show of “hypocrisy”, give that President Volodymyr Zelensky had proposed a Russian troop withdrawal earlier, before December 25, but Russia rejected it.
Podolyak continued on Twitter: “The Russian Federation must leave the occupied territories - only then will it have a ‘temporary truce’. Keep hypocrisy to yourself.”
Patriarch Kirill has previously justified the war as part of Russia’s “metaphysical struggle” to prevent a liberal ideological encroachment from the West.” Here is everything you need to know.
When is the ceasefire in place?
The Russian-declared truce in the nearly 11-month war began at 12pm on Friday and will continue until midnight on Sunday local time. It is in place as the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas.
The church, which uses the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on 7 January – later than the Gregorian calendar, which marks the holiday on 25 December. It is not just Russians who celebrate Christmas on that date, some Christians in Ukraine also mark the holiday.
Is the ceasefire holding?
There were no immediate reports of it being broken. Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv about 40 minutes after the Russian ceasefire came into effect but no explosions were heard. A widely-used Alerts In Ukraine app, which includes information from emergency services, showed sirens blaring across the country.
What has Vladimir Putin said about the ceasefire?
Mr Putin’s Thursday (5 January) announcement that the Kremlin’s troops would stop fighting along the 684-mile front line or elsewhere was unexpected. The ceasefire order was addressed to defence minister Sergei Shoigu and was published on the Kremlin’s website on Thursday.
He wrote: “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.”
What has Volodymyr Zelensky said about the ceasfire?
Ukrainian President Zelensky accused Russia of trying to use the ceasefire to regroup in eastern Donbas. He said in a video address: “They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to stop the advances of our boys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunition, and mobilized troops closer to our positions. What will that give them? Only yet another increase in their total losses.”
Pointedly speaking in Russian and not Ukrainian, Zelensky concluded that ending the war meant “ending your country’s aggression…And the war will end either when your soldiers leave or we throw them out.”
Meanwhile, officials in Ukraine slammed the request as show of “hypocrisy”, given that Zelensky proposed a withdrawal of troops before 25 December - and Russia rejected it.
Turkey ready to help negotiate “lasting peace”
Putin spoke by phone with Turkey’s President on Thursday and the Kremlin said he “reaffirmed Russia’s openness to a serious dialogue” with Ukrainian authorities. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged him to implement a “unilateral ceasefire”, according to a statement from his office.
Erdogan also told Zelensky later by telephone that Turkey was ready to mediate a “lasting peace”. He has made such an offer frequently.
It has already helped broker a deal allowing Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain, and it has facilitated a prisoner swap. Russia’s professed readiness came with the usual preconditions: that “Kyiv authorities fulfil the well-known and repeatedly stated demands and recognise new territorial realities”, the Kremlin said, referring to Moscow’s insistence that Ukraine recognise Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other illegal territorial gains.
Previous attempts at peace talks have fallen at that hurdle, as Ukraine demands that Russia withdraws from occupied areas at the very least.
Elsewhere, the head of Nato said he detected no change in Moscow’s stance on Ukraine, insisting that the Kremlin “wants a Europe where they can control a neighbouring country”. “We have no indications that President Putin has changed his plans, his goals for Ukraine,” Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in Oslo.