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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has dismissed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for a 36-hour cease-fire to allow for the observance of Orthodox Christmas on the coming weekend, saying that Russia would only use the period to improve its position on the battlefield.
Zelenskiy said on January 5 that Russia wants to use the holiday “as a cover” to bring equipment, ammunition, and mobilized troops closer to the positions of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas region.
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“Everyone in the world knows how the Kremlin uses a lull in the war to continue the war with new strength,” Zelenskiy said in a video message.
Putin earlier on January 5 instructed Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to introduce a “cease-fire along the entire line of combat of the parties in Ukraine” lasting 36 hours — from 12 p.m. on January 6 to midnight on January 7.
As reported on the Kremlin website, Putin called on the Ukrainian side to “declare a cease-fire and give Orthodox Christians the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day.”
Zelenskiy said he also discussed the dynamics of the situation with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose office said he had pressed Putin during a telephone call earlier on January 5 to implement a “unilateral cease-fire” in order to support efforts for peace talks.
Erdogan, who helped broker a deal to resume shipments of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports that were closed during the early months of the conflict, has repeatedly offered to host a peace summit between the warring leaders.
The Kremlin reported that Putin informed Erdogan of Russia’s “openness to serious dialogue on the condition of Kyiv authorities…taking into account the new territorial realities,” a reference to Russia’s unrecognized claims to have annexed five Ukrainian regions.
Ukraine insists Russia withdraw from those regions before talks can be held.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, had earlier on Twitter described the cease-fire as “hypocrisy” and said there could only be a “temporary truce” if Russia withdraws its forces from territory it has seized in Ukraine.
In a more detailed statement, Podolyak said Putin’s proposal was “purely a propaganda gesture” and also accused Russia of wanting it only to secure additional time to reduce the intensity of clashes, mobilize additional forces, and continue to build fortifications on territory it has occupied.
“A banal trick. There is not the slightest desire to end the war in this,” Podolyak said in the statement, according to Reuters.
“Moreover, let me remind you that only Russia attacks civilian objects with missiles/drones, including places of religious rites, and does this precisely on Christmas holidays,” said Podolyak, who was one of the lead negotiators in early talks between Russia and Ukraine at the start of the war.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Putin is “trying to find some oxygen” by floating the cease-fire, which German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock slammed, saying on Twitter that a cease-fire “brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the proposed cease-fire would “do nothing to advance the prospects for peace.”
Cleverly added on Twitter: “Russia must permanently withdraw its forces, relinquish its illegal control of Ukrainian territory and end its barbaric attacks against innocent civilians.”
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said there was “significant skepticism” in the United States and around the world given Russia’s “long track record of propaganda, disinformation, and its relentless attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians.”
“Our focus will continue to be on supporting Ukraine,” Ryder told reporters shortly after the United States and Germany and said they would send armored vehicles to Ukraine.
The United States intends to supply Ukraine with Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and Germany intends to provide Marder infantry fighting vehicles, a joint statement said after a phone call between Biden and Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Germany also will join the United States in supplying a Patriot air-defense battery to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy thanked Scholz on Twitter for the decision to deliver a Patriot battery to Ukraine.
“Together with the previously delivered IRIS-T system and the Gepard tanks, Germany is making an important contribution to intercepting all Russian missiles!” he said.
Kyiv has been pressing Western governments for heavy armored vehicles.
France announced on January 4 after a phone call between Zelenskiy and French President Emmanuel Macron that it would provide AMX-10 RC light-armored vehicles to Ukraine.
Earlier, Australia provided 90 Bushmaster vehicles, which are armored against land mines.
In its daily briefing on the war on January 5, the Ukrainian military said more than 800 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded, mostly in fighting around the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut and other locations in the Donetsk region.
RFE/RL could not independently verify the Ukrainian military’s figures.