Under pressure from a key religious leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a 36-hour cease-fire for the war on Ukraine launched last February—a move swiftly criticized by an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Putin's decision came after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)
said that "I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, call on all parties involved in the internecine conflict to establish a Christmas cease-fire from 12:00 pm Moscow time on January 6 to 12:00 am on January 7 so that Orthodox people could attend church services on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day."
The Russian president said in a statement that "taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the minister of defense of the Russian Federation to introduce from 12:00 January 6, 2023 until 24:00 January 7, 2023, a cease-fire along the entire line of contact between the parties in Ukraine."
"Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas," Putin continued, "we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a cease-fire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ."
For Putin, the offer is "a play at generosity for the public," Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik political consultant, wrote in Telegram. She noted that after Ukrainian missile strikes on January 1 killed scores of Russian troops in occupied territory, "he certainly doesn't want something like that to happen on Christmas."
Russia's Ministry of Defense said Monday that Ukrainian rockets killed 63 soldiers in Russian-occupied Donetsk. The ministry also confirmed Thursday that troops have been instructed to observe the temporary cease-fire ordered by Putin.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, responded to the developments Thursday by blasting both the ROC—known for its leader's close relationship with the Kremlin—and the Russian Federation (RF) cease-fire.
"ROC is not an authority for global Orthodoxy and acts as a 'war propagandist,'" Podolyak tweeted. "ROC called for the genocide of Ukrainians, incited mass murder, and insists on even greater militarization of RF. Thus, ROC's statement about [a] 'Christmas truce' is a cynical trap and an element of propaganda."
After the Kremlin's decision, Podolyak added: "First. Ukraine doesn't attack foreign territory and doesn't kill civilians. As RF does. Ukraine destroys only members of the occupation army on its territory... Second. RF must leave the occupied territories—only then will it have a 'temporary truce.' Keep hypocrisy to yourself."
Ukrainian citizens and soldiers who spoke with CNNexpressed skepticism that Putin's directive will actually halt fighting.
"They shell us every day, people die in Kherson every day. And this temporary measure won't change anything," Pavlo Skotarenko, a resident of the Ukrainian region where at least four people were killed Thursday, told the network by phone. "Their soldiers here on the ground will continue to fire mortars. The provocations will happen for sure."
From the beginning of the invasion through Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights "recorded 17,994 civilian casualties in Ukraine: 6,919 killed and 11,075 injured." However, the office "believes that the actual figures are considerably higher."
Skotarenko said that "the only positive thing from this possible cease-fire is that our guys may have a day or two for rest and reset."
Russia's planned cease-fire did not seem to signal a step toward ending the war. The Kremlin said in a statement that during a Thursday phone call, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "discussed the situation around Ukraine. Russia laid an emphasis on the destructive role of Western countries who have been pumping the Kyiv regime with weapons and military hardware as well as providing it with operational information and assigning targets to it."
In response to Erdogan's willingness to mediate, the Kremlin added that "Putin reiterated that Russia is open to a serious dialogue, given authorities in Kyiv meet demands that have been repeatedly put forward, with due account taken of the new territorial realities," a reference to regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia.
Zelenskyy also spoke with Erdogan on Thursday. The Ukrainian president said that the two leaders "discussed security cooperation of our countries, nuclear safety issues, in particular the situation at [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant]. There should be no invaders there. We also talked about the exchange of prisoners of war with Turkish mediation [and] the development of the grain agreement. We appreciate Turkey's willingness to take part in the implementation of our peace formula."
The developments Thursday came after over 1,000 faith leaders in the United States—including Bishop William J. Barber II, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dr. Cornel West, Rev. Liz Theoharis, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Sikh leader Valarie Kaur—signed a statement calling for Christmas truce inspired by World War I, shortly before the holiday celebrated by many around the world on December 25.