The State Department on Thursday rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a unilateral ceasefire in Ukraine for Orthodox Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7, as a “cynical ploy.” Putin ordered the ceasefire to take effect at noon on Friday and last through Saturday after a request from Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Instead of welcoming a potential pause in fighting, the US dismissed the order as an attempt by Putin to reinforce his troops.
“From our perspective, there is one word that best describes that, and it’s ‘cynical,'” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. He said it was “cynical” because Russia continued its missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
“So as you can tell, we have 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,” Price said. President Biden made similar comments, saying he thought it was an attempt by Putin “to find some oxygen,” although any relief for Russian troops would also be a relief for the Ukrainian side.
Other Western governments made similar comments, including the EU’s European Council President Charles Michel, who called Putin’s order “bogus and hypocritical.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also slammed the ceasefire, saying, “a so-called ceasefire brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation.”
Ukrainian officials also rejected the ceasefire, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t explicitly say his forces wouldn’t follow it, so only time will tell if Putin’s order brings calm to Ukraine for 36 hours.
“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to at least briefly stop the advance of our guys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized men closer to our positions. What will this bring? Just another increase in the death toll,” Zelensky said in his nightly address.
Earlier on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he would welcome any ceasefire in Ukraine as there has been no real pause in the fighting since Russia invaded over ten months ago. While Russia and Ukraine are incredibly far apart on their demands for peace talks, an agreement on a short ceasefire could potentially lead to more cooperation in the future.