putin orders brief unilateral cease fire ukraine calls it hypocrisy
Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has ordered his military to implement a 36-hour cease-fire along the front line in Ukraine for the Russian Orthodox Christmas, the Kremlin said on Thursday. A senior Ukrainian official dismissed the move as “hypocrisy.”

Ukraine previously has accused Russia of violating a humanitarian cease-fire earlier in the war and has expressed skepticism over Moscow’s past pledges to exercise military restraint.

Mr. Putin called for a unilateral cease-fire, which would be the broadest of its kind since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, that would last from midday on Friday until midnight on Saturday, the Kremlin said. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed it had received the order to implement the cease-fire.

“Given that a large number of citizens practicing Orthodoxy resides in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to announce a cease-fire and give them an opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve and the day of Christ’s birth,” the Kremlin statement said.

Analysts characterized Mr. Putin’s proposal as a public relations ploy that he would seek to exploit regardless of Ukraine’s response. If Kyiv agrees to a cease-fire, it would give the Russian military an opportunity to regroup its battered units. If Ukraine ignores the cease-fire, Russia can claim higher moral ground and use ongoing hostilities to further vilify Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public.

A senior Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, wrote on Twitter that Ukraine “doesn’t attack foreign territory & doesn’t kill civilians.” Moscow’s troops “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a ‘temporary truce,’” he added.

“Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” he tweeted.

Some pro-war Russian nationalists also dismissed the proposal, underlining the depth of mutual animosity.

“We — Russian soldiers and volunteers — don’t want any compromises,” an influential military blogger, Vladlen Tatarsky, wrote on the Telegram messaging app after Mr. Putin’s announcement. “We want to kill every person dressed in the uniform of the enemy’s army.”

Russia’s announcement came hours after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, who is a close ally of Mr. Putin, called for a cease-fire to allow Orthodox Christians on both sides of the front line to attend Church services. Russia celebrates Orthodox holidays based on the Julian calendar, as do some Ukrainians, which is different from the Gregorian calendar used by majority-Catholic and Protestant nations.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has positioned himself as a mediator in the conflict, spoke to Mr. Putin on Thursday and also called for a cease-fire .

Some Ukrainians, especially in the western part of the country, observe Christmas on Dec. 25, and on Christmas Eve, Russian shelling killed at least 10 people in the recently recaptured Ukrainian city of Kherson.

The Russian military has struggled in recent months. The Kremlin “needs a break to partially restore its military power,” said Pavel Luzhin, a Russian military analyst.

He added that Mr. Putin likely knows that Kyiv will not accept the cease-fire and is aiming the proposal at least partly to the domestic audience.

“The Kremlin is going to demonstrate to Russians, who are mostly tired from the war, why the Russian leadership needs to continue fighting.”

Ukrainian officials have already accused Russia of marring the run-up to Orthodox Christmas with continued attacks on civilians. A Russian strike on Thursday in the Kherson region killed a family of three, including a 12-year-old boy, that was preparing to celebrate Christmas together at home, officials said.

“They talk about the ‘Christmas truce’ in the morning, and they kill a whole family by lunchtime,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, wrote on Telegram.

Pro-Russian officials said Ukraine has also hit civilian targets in occupied towns this week, including a hospital in the town of Tokmok in the Zaporizhzhia region, which left six people dead. A New York Times analysis of video evidence from the scene confirmed severe damage to the hospital complex.

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