Russian President Vladimir Putin has certainly not displayed much charity in the past ten months of the war of aggression against Ukraine. It was all the more surprising when he ordered a one-and-a-half-day ceasefire from this Friday for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations. Believers should be able to attend the Christmas masses, was the Kremlin's official statement on Thursday. It is the first time since the beginning of the war at the end of February that Russia has unilaterally announced a ceasefire along the entire front line - but it is questionable whether this will ultimately be implemented. Kyiv senses a trap and sees it as pure propaganda behavior.
Putin's order literally reads: "Taking into account Patriarch Kirill's call, I am ordering the Russian Ministry of Defense from January 6 at 12 noon (10:00 CET) to January 7 at midnight (22:00 CET) along the entire line of armed forces to put the dispute in Ukraine into effect." Earlier, Kirill, the influential head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called for a ceasefire in Ukraine over Christmas. The Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine traditionally celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7 according to the Julian calendar.
So far, agreements on ceasefires have always been limited to the local area - for example in the first months of the war around the besieged port city of Mariupol, where both sides repeatedly accused each other of violations. In addition, there is currently a periodically functioning crossing point in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia between the Russian-occupied town of Wassylivka and the Ukrainian-controlled Kamianske. This is also used by the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant near Enerhodar.
Kyiv smells "cynical weapon"
Moscow has now called on Kyiv to also temporarily silence the guns - but they angrily refuse. Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser in the Ukrainian presidential office, spoke of a "cynical trap" and "hypocrisy". "Russia must leave the occupied territories - only then will there be a "temporary ceasefire"," he wrote on Twitter, referring to the illegally annexed areas of Cherson, Zaporizhia, Luhansk, Donetsk and the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Unlike the Russian opponent, Ukraine does not attack foreign territory and does not kill civilians.
It was purely a "propaganda gesture," Podoljak later added. "Russia is trying by all means to reduce the intensity of the fighting and the intensity of the attacks on its logistics centers, at least temporarily." Kyiv will therefore not react to Moscow's "deliberately manipulative" initiatives.
Russian political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya, who lives abroad, agrees: "The Christmas truce fits perfectly into Putin's logic, in which Russia is acting on the positive side of history and fighting for justice." In addition, the 70-year-old Kremlin chief wants to prevent a similar debacle as on New Year's Eve by temporarily stopping hostilities, Stanovaya wrote in the Telegram news service. On the night of January 1, at least dozens and possibly hundreds of Russian soldiers were killed in a Ukrainian attack in Makiivka in the Donetsk region.
Federal Government: Have "taken note" of it
The federal government also reacted cautiously. "We have taken note of the announcement," said a government spokesman in Berlin. "Every cessation of hostilities helps save lives." However, the fact remains that Russia must completely withdraw its troops from Ukraine and can thus end this war at any time. "We continue to call on Russia to do this."
Above all, it remains to be seen whether the Russian soldiers will actually keep their own ceasefire - especially if the Ukrainian recapture attempts on the more than 800-kilometer-long front line continue through Christmas. Will the Russians shoot back then?
If one is to believe the occupation chief of the Donetsk region, Denis Puschilin: Yes. "The decision concerns the cessation of initiative fire and offensive actions from our side," he wrote in the Telegram news service. "That doesn't mean we won't respond to enemy provocations! Or even give the enemy any chance to improve their frontline positions during these holiday hours."
The ceasefire is therefore likely to have only a limited impact on the immediate front area. It is possible that there will be no Russian rocket and drone attacks during these 36 hours of Christmas, at least in other Ukrainian regions - in contrast to New Year's Eve.