(CNSNews.com) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday contemptuously dismissed President Vladimir Putin’s call for a 36-hour ceasefire to mark Orthodox Christmas, voicing deep skepticism about the Kremlin’s motives that was shared by the U.S. State Department.
“Those who continued the terror against our country and sent all those people of yours to the slaughter, rejecting our offers to stop the Russian aggression, certainly do not value life and definitely do not seek peace,” Zelenskyy said during a nightly address to the nation.
“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.”
“Everyone in the world knows how the Kremlin uses respites at war to continue the war with renewed vigor.”
Putin ordered the ceasefire to run from noon Friday Moscow time to the end of Saturday (4 AM Friday U.S. eastern time until 4 PM Saturday), saying that this would give Orthodox Christians “in the area of hostilities” the opportunity to go attend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services. He called on the Ukraine side to declare a ceasefire too.
Putin took the step after a ceasefire call came from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, whose stance on the invasion has stoked controversy and fed into deep divisions between Orthodox churches in Ukraine that fall under his patriarchate and those recognized by the patriarchate of Constantinople.
Orthodox denominations celebrate Christmas on January 7, based of the ancient Julian calendar.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday called Putin’s ceasefire call “a cynical ploy.”
“We believe this is a cynical ploy so that the Russians can use a bit of time – whether it is a couple days, or however long it ends up being – to rest, to refit, to regroup, and ultimately to reattack, to reattack with potentially even more vengeance, even more brutality, even more lethality if they had their way,” he told a briefing.
Price said the ceasefire call was “cynical in large part because it comes just days after Moscow perpetrated these New Year’s Day attacks on Ukraine civilian infrastructure.”
“So as you can tell, we have little faith in the intentions behind this announcement.”
If Putin was serious about peace and ending the war, Price said, he would withdraw his forces from sovereign Ukrainian territory.
He said it was also possible that Putin seeks to fool the world, divide public opinion, and “perhaps induce the rest of the world into thinking that perhaps there’s a reason to give them a shred of doubt.”
“But there is not,” Price continued. “When we’ve seen previous announced ceasefires in the past, of course, especially in the early days of this war, we heard these announcements. They were heralded by the Kremlin. They were followed by brutal strikes in places like Mariupol against fleeing civilians.”
Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine last February, saying the aim was to “demilitarize and denazify” the country, and to punish the regime in Kyiv for what he said were its crimes against civilians in the eastern Donbas region, including Russian citizens.
The war has dragged on for more than ten months, dividing the international community, roiling the global economy, and exacting a heavy cost, especially on Ukraine, but also in terms of Russian combat fatalities.
The true number of Ukrainian civilians killed in the fighting is not known, but the U.N. human rights office says it has verified 6,919 civilian deaths as of January 2, including more than 420 children, while believing that “the actual figures are considerably higher.”
Most of the deaths were attributed to explosive weapons, “including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said last November that “well over” 100,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded in the conflict, with probably a similar number on the Ukrainian side.
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