Putin orders ceasefire for Russian forces in Ukraine

Yesterday, January 5, President Putin ordered a 36-hour ceasefire effective 6 – 7 January for his forces in Ukraine.  This was based on the Orthodox Christian celebration of Christmas on 6 and 7 January in both Russia and Ukraine with Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow earlier calling for the ceasefire so both sides could observe a Christmas truce.  Putin said,

"Proceeding from the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day,"

Ukraine apparently was not impressed with Putin’s order and made a particularly harsh response to the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill.

A senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, cast the Russian Orthodox Church as a "war propagandist" that had incited the "mass murder" of Ukrainians and the militarisation of Russia.

"The statement of the Russian Orthodox Church about the 'Christmas Truce' is a cynical trap and an element of propaganda," he said.

Granted, history is replete with examples of ceasefires being used by one side or both to re-cock and get ready for further action.  US State Department spokesman Ned Price echoed that notion when he said:

The truce order seems to be a ploy “to rest, refit, regroup, and ultimately re-attack,”

It’s hard to fathom though, the advantage Russian forces would get from a 36-hour lull given their months-long inept handling of the war both tactically and logistically unless they are executing another withdrawal hoping to do the operation without pressure from Ukrainian forces.  Rest, refit, regroup, and re-attack would seem to be a tall order for Putin’s army even for a few weeks break much less 36 hours.

The reaction to the Orthodox Patriarch is not surprising given that in addition to suppressing opposition political parties, Zelensky has shut down disfavored religions including the Russian Orthodox church, but this may be understandable given Kirill and the church’s backing of the Russian invasion.

Nevertheless, the ceasefire has gone into effect along the 1,100 kilometer front and it appears Zelensky did not entirely ignore Putin’s request.  Whatever advantage Russian forces gain from a 36-hour break in the action, Ukraine forces will also enjoy.  We shall see what happens if anything, at the end of the ceasefire on January 7.

John Smith is the pen name of a retired member of the US intelligence community

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