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    Putin calls for Ukraine ceasefire to mark Russian Orthodox Christmas

    Russian President Vladimir Putin have ordered his military to observe a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine for Russian Orthodox Christmas this weekend and called on Kyiv to do the same.

    But the Ukrainians quickly dismissed the move as a propaganda ploy and yet another attempt by Moscow to buy more time for its military to regroup.

    “First. Ukraine doesn’t attack foreign territory and doesn’t kill civilians. As [Russia] does. Ukraine destroys only members of the occupation army on its territory…” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak responded on Twitter. “Second. [Russia] must leave the occupied territories—only then will it have a “temporary truce.” Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” he added.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Jan. 4, 2023.Mikhail Klimentev/Sputnik via AFP – Getty Images

    Putin instructed his defense minister to institute the cease-fire “along the entire line of contact between the parties in Ukraine” starting at noon local time (4 am ET) Friday, the Kremlin said in a statement posted on Telegram on Thursday. The proposed Christmas truce would last until midnight local time (4 pm ET) Saturday.

    The Russian president did not appear to make his order conditional on Ukraine agreeing to follow suit, and it wasn’t clear what the unilateral announcement would mean for the status of fighting across the conflict’s front lines.

    Ukrainian officials previously dismissed the idea when it was first raised by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who enjoys a close association with the government and has provided a kind of spiritual cover for the invasion.

    Podolyak had dismissed Kirill’s call as “a cynical trap and an element of propaganda.”

    Ukraine’s national security and defense council secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, seconded that.

    “How does a pack of petty Kremlin devils relate to a Christian holiday?” Danilov wrote on Twitter. “Who will believe scum that kills children, bombards maternity hospitals, tortures prisoners? A ceasefire? Lies and hypocrisy. We will bite you in the singing silence of the Ukrainian night.”

    The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7 — later than the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox Christians in Ukraine recently started celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25 to show their anger at and defiance of Moscow.

    “Based on 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 cease-fire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ,” Putin said.

    Putin’s proposal comes after 10 months of fierce fighting.

    His campaign in Ukraine suffered a series of setbacks at the end of last year, with counterattacks by Kyiv’s military forcing retreats from large areas Russia’s military had seized and Putin claimed to have annexed in the east and the south of the country.

    The Kremlin has responded by calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists and intensifying its commitment to the conflict.

    With fighting on the ground largely frozen in the thick of winter, Moscow’s military has bombarded civilian targets across Ukraine from the air — including a series of missile strikes on New Year’s Eve.

    Kyiv has warned that Putin’s regrouped and reinforced army might be planning a major new offensive in the next few months and has urged its Western allies to deliver more powerful weapons.

    Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected to announce sometime Friday that Bradley Fighting Vehicles, an armored combat conveyance that can serve as a troop carrier, will soon be sent to Ukraine, three US officials told NBC News.

    Biden’s announcement will come after he speaks with German Chancellor Scholz on Thursday afternoon, one official said.

    While further fueling support for Kyiv from the United States and Europe, Russia’s ongoing invasion has also stoked rare criticism at home.

    Earlier this week the Russian military blamed its soldiers’ use of cellphones for a Ukrainian missile attack that killed dozens and fueled a new round of domestic criticism at how the war is being fought.

    The strike dealt another blow to the Kremlin’s public image and renewed criticism of military leaders from nationalist bloggers and pro-war voices within the country.

    Associated Press, Carol E. Lee and courtney kube Contributed,

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