What does Putin’s “Christmas truce” mean?

January 6,2023 521
What does Putin’s “Christmas truce” mean?

The 36-hour ceasefire announced by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin on Thursday to be kept between January 6 and January 7, the time of Eastern Orthodox Christmas celebration, did not go unnoticed in the world, although the response was – once again – certainly not what Putin expected.

(An important note: 45 minutes after Russia’s unilateral “ceasefire” took effect, an air alert was announced all over Ukraine, and there were two missile strikes at Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, at about the same time. This is all you need to know about ceasefire à la russe. If Vergil were alive, he would say, “fear Russians even when offering a truce.”)

Some commentators just express an attitude toward the Kremlin’s move. Others also try to understand what is behind it.

“How ironic!” the Ukrainian World Congress was among the first to comment. “Putin ordered to implement a temporary ceasefire along the front line in UA today, when RU invaders suffered one more bitter failure in another attempt to capture Bakhmut. Cynical criminals are close to being crushed and vitally need regrouping; cause Russia is losing.”

Mykhaylo Podolyak, advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine emphasized that “first, Ukraine does not attack foreign territory and does not kill the civilian population, as Russia does. Ukraine only annihilates members of the occupation army on its territory… Second. The Russian Federation must leave the occupied territories – only then it will have the beginning of a ‘temporary truce’. Leave the hypocrisy to yourself…”

At a press briefing in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of State spokesman, Ned Price, was asked whether this ceasefire could be a good thing in some ways.

“From our perspective, there is one word that best describes that, and it’s ‘cynical,’” Price replied. “It’s ‘cynical’ in large part because it comes just days after Moscow perpetrated these New Year’s Day attacks on Ukraine civilian infrastructure, its civilian centers, following repeated days of attacks against similar targets. And I hesitate to even call them targets because, again, these are civilian centers in many cases.”

According to Price, the DoS has little faith in the intentions behind this announcement. “Our concern […] is that the Russians would seek to use any temporary pause in fighting to rest, to refit, to regroup, and ultimately to reattack. And so in that sense, it can’t be considered a ceasefire if the intent is to train their fire with even more vengeance, with even more ferocity, with even more lethality against the people of Ukraine,” he said.

“If Russia were truly serious about peace, about ending this war, it would withdraw its forces from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. That is what constitutes an end to this war. It is what we have called on Russia to do. It is what the Ukrainians have called on Russia to do. It is what much of the world has called on Russia to do,” Price added.

President of the European Council Charles Michel tweeted in Ukrainian: “There is an aggressor: the Kremlin. And there is the victim: the Ukrainian people. The withdrawal of Russian troops is the only serious way to restore peace and security. The announcement of a unilateral ceasefire is as false and hypocritical as the illegal and grotesque annexations and accompanying referendums.”

According to the Institute for the Study of War, Putin’s ceasefire “is likely an information operation intended to damage Ukraine’s reputation.”

“Putin could have been seeking to secure a 36-hour pause for Russian troops to afford them the ability to rest, recoup, and reorient to relaunch offensive operations in critical sectors of the front. Such a pause would disproportionately benefit Russian troops and begin to deprive Ukraine of the initiative. Putin cannot reasonably expect Ukraine to meet the terms of this suddenly declared ceasefire and may have called for the ceasefire to frame Ukraine as unaccommodating and unwilling to take the necessary steps towards negotiations,” says the ISW.

Vadym Denysenko, an advisor to the Interior Minister of Ukraine, said Putin’s request for a truce is an attempt to blank out the massacre in Makiyivka, of which repercussions began to get out of control, within Russia. “The traditional tactic of the Russians at work: after resounding defeats, to flood the air with thousands of worthless talks,” Denysenko wrote in a Facebook post. He also did not exclude that the ceasefire announcement could be a preparation for provocations related to kicking out the Moscow patriarchate from Kyiv’s Lavra.

Photo: Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Jan. 6, 2023. Russia’s ceasefire has just begun. Kramatorsk City Council