The Kremlin on Thursday announced a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine to mark Eastern Orthodox Christmas, in what would be the largest truce since Russia invaded in February. But Ukraine’s leaders dismiss the idea as cynical posturing by a ruthless and unrelenting enemy.

The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry said in separate statements that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a ceasefire from Friday afternoon to midnight Saturday. “Noting that a large number of Orthodox civilians live in areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to participate in services on Christmas Eve and the Day of the Nativity of Christ, said the Kremlin.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky responded with derision in his nightly video message, though he did not explicitly dismiss the idea. After switching from Ukrainian to speaking Russian in order to address the Russian people directly, he spoke of those who “sent all your people to the slaughter” and “do not strive for peace.”

“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover” to halt Ukrainian advances “and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized troops closer to our positions,” he said. “Everyone in the world knows how the Kremlin uses the peace in the war to continue the war with renewed vigour,” he said.

Russia has previously rejected – and, according to Ukraine, repeatedly violated – limited local ceasefires aimed at allowing humanitarian evacuation and aid delivery to besieged places such as Mariupol.

The Kremlin’s announcement comes as the Russian military, after serious setbacks, is scrambling to build up defences, bring fresh troops to the front and reorganize scattered units. As the heavy cost of what was at first billed as a quick and easy war hit home to ordinary Russians, Mr Putin has become more attentive to domestic public concerns about the conflict. At the same time, his government, which has been isolated internationally, has tried to reshape opinion abroad.

In Washington, President Biden said it appeared Mr Putin was “trying to find some oxygen” with the cease-fire announcement. Mr. Biden said, “I am reluctant to respond to anything Putin says.” “I found it interesting that he was 25 and ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches on New Year’s.”

Meanwhile, the United States and Germany announced on Thursday that they would supply armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine for the first time, a day after France did so, although they did not cite numbers. Ukrainian officials have pleaded for months for armored vehicles such as the now promised American Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the French AMX-10 RC and the German Marder, as well as Western tanks, which Ukraine’s allies have so far refused to deliver. Have given.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after a phone call with Mr Biden that Germany would also send Ukraine a Patriot missile system, the most sophisticated US-made air-to-air missile, two weeks after the president promised to give Ukraine its first Patriot. Defense is a weapon. System.

After starting to lose ground in late summer, Russian forces moved in to bombard civilian targets in Ukraine, destroying power and heating systems and air defenses vital for Ukrainians to survive the winter. There has been little movement on the battlefield recently, but that is expected to change in the coming months, with a premium being placed on armored vehicles.

Political and military analysts have described Mr Putin’s declared ceasefire as a public relations ploy he will try to take advantage of depending on how Ukraine reacts. If Kyiv agrees to a ceasefire, he said, it would allow Mr. Putin to present himself as a peacemaker.

, If Ukraine ignores it, Russia may attempt to claim the high moral ground – despite the fact that Russia started the war and its military has committed numerous documented atrocities – and Ukraine in the eyes of Russian and world opinion. Use continued hostility to discredit.

Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst, said the Kremlin “needs a break to partially restore its military power” but, aware that Kyiv is unlikely to accept the ceasefire, domestic audiences playing for. “The Kremlin is going to demonstrate to Russians, who are mostly war-weary, why the Russian leadership needs to keep fighting,” he said.

In recent days, Ukraine has claimed that it has used long-range artillery to inflict heavy casualties in attacks on several concentrations of Russian troops behind the front line, and the Russians have confirmed heavy losses at one location. . Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said Mr Putin may be trying to avoid another such disaster during the holiday.

Within hours, some of Mr Putin’s most aggressive allies appeared to play down his plan. Some pro-war Russian nationalists rejected the idea of ​​a ceasefire, underscoring the depth of mutual animosity.

“We – Russian soldiers and volunteers – do not want any compromise,” wrote Vladlen Tatarsky, an influential military blogger on the Telegram messaging app. “We want to kill everyone wearing enemy army uniform.”

The most prominent Kremlin proxy in occupied Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, wrote in a telegram that “there can be no talk of any ceasefire,” and that a ceasefire “does not mean that we will not respond to provocations by the opponent.” Mr Pushilin, who heads the self-proclaimed breakaway state in the Donetsk region that Russia claims, said the cease-fire applied only to Orthodox Christians, not Ukraine’s leadership – possibly a reference to Mr Zelensky being Jewish.

Some Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on 25 December, especially in the western part of the country, which has a significant Roman Catholic population. But Orthodox churches, which still use the Julian calendar instead of the newer Gregorian calendar, mark it on January 7, which this year falls on a Saturday.

Russia’s announcement came hours after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, a close ally of Mr Putin, called for a ceasefire to allow Orthodox Christians on both sides of the front line to attend church services Can go Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has positioned himself as a mediator in the conflict, spoke to Mr Putin on Thursday and also called for a ceasefire.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the Kremlin’s announcement was “cynical”. “I think we know better than anything we see or hear from Russia,” he said.

Mykhailo Podolić, a senior adviser to Mr Zelensky, in a statement dismissed the Kremlin’s cease-fire offer as a “propaganda gesture” and a “generic ploy”.

“After 10 months of genocide, destroying hundreds of Ukrainian churches, isn’t it too late for the Kremlin to think about God?” the Defense Ministry of Ukraine asked on social media. The foreign ministry also said Mr. Putin’s offer “cannot and should not be taken seriously.”

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

Reporting was contributed by Alina Lobzina, megan special, cassandra winograd, Anushka Patil, john ismay And Safak Timur,

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