US President Joe Biden said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s order for a two-day Orthodox ceasefire in Ukraine was simply an attempt to find a breather for his war effort.
“He was ready to bomb hospitals, kindergartens and churches” on December 25 and New Year’s Day, Biden said, adding, “I think he’s trying to find some oxygen.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price called Putin’s ceasefire “cynical,” saying, “We have little faith in the intentions behind this announcement.”
He expressed concern that Russia would take advantage of the break to “regroup, rest and eventually re-attack” and said that Putin might try to “deceive the world” into giving the impression that he wanted peace.
“This is not like changing the course of the war,” he said. “If Russia was really serious about peace, about ending this war, it would withdraw its troops from the sovereign territory of Ukraine.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock said that if Putin really wants peace, “he will bring his soldiers home.”
“The so-called ceasefire brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation,” Burbock tweeted.
Putin on Thursday ordered a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine during Orthodox Christmas, a move that war-weary Kyiv quickly branded as “hypocrisy.”
Putin’s directive to his troops was announced just days after Moscow suffered its deadliest losses in the invasion and after 11 months of fierce fighting.
Both countries celebrate Orthodox Christmas, and the Russian leader’s order came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of Putin, called for a ceasefire between January 6 and 7.
“Given the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation to introduce … a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact in Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Kyiv criticized the statement, calling it “hypocrisy.”
Russia “must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a” temporary truce. Keep the hypocrisy to yourself,” Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the President of Ukraine, wrote on Twitter.
In a late-night video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia wants to use the truce to halt Ukraine’s advance and bring in more men and equipment.
“What will it give them? Just another increase in their total losses,” he said.
Russia occupies parts of eastern and southern Ukraine after 11 months of fighting, but Kyiv has reclaimed some of its territory and this week announced a New Year’s Eve strike that killed dozens of Moscow’s troops.
Earlier Thursday, Erdogan, who has good relations with Moscow, urged Putin to call a “unilateral” ceasefire during a telephone conversation between the two leaders, the Turkish leader’s office said.
The Kremlin said Putin told Erdogan he was ready for dialogue if Kyiv accepted “new territorial realities” on the ground.
After a vote that the international community called a farce, Russia annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, although not in full control of them.
Erdogan used his good relations with both sides to try to invite Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to Turkey for a peace summit.
Turkey held the first two rounds of peace talks and helped broker a UN-backed deal to restore Ukrainian grain supplies across the Black Sea.
But the Kremlin directly responded to the call of the spiritual leader of Russia, Patriarch Kirill.
The 76-year-old Orthodox leader, an outspoken supporter of Putin, has blessed Russian troops fighting in Ukraine and delivered scathing anti-Western and anti-Kiev sermons throughout the conflict.
Kirill made an appeal “so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity of Christ,” he said Thursday on the church’s official website.
The Kremlin’s decision to send troops to Ukraine in February 2022 caused many of the clergy who remained loyal to Kirill to turn their backs on Moscow.
In May, the Moscow-backed branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church severed ties with Russia, citing its lack of condemnation of the fighting.
The ceasefire order was issued a day after Moscow increased its heaviest casualties from the Ukrainian strike to 89.
The military-strategic communication service of Ukraine said that about 400 Russian soldiers died in the city of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine, held by pro-Russian forces. Even Russian commentators say the death toll could be much higher than the Kremlin’s figures.
The fatal blow at Makiivka came after months of Russian discontent with the military following a series of battlefield defeats and hugely unpopular mobilization actions.
News of Putin’s order comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced the delivery of French-made AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine, which became the first Western country to deliver tanks.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz received renewed calls Thursday to deliver the Leopard light tanks that Kyiv has long sought.
Government sources in Berlin said on Thursday that both Germany and the US are planning a new round of arms supplies to Ukraine.
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