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Ukraine spurns Putin’s Christmas truce call

Ukraine spurned an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin for a 36-hour ceasefire over Orthodox Christmas, saying there will be no truce until Russia withdraws its forces from occupied land.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin had ordered a ceasefire from midday on Friday after a call for a Christmas truce from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact of the parties in Ukraine from 12:00 on January 6, 2023 to 24:00 on January 7, 2023,” President Putin said in the order.

“Proceeding from 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 ceasefire and allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve as well as on Christmas Day,” Mr Putin said.

But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak tweeted back that Russia “must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a ‘temporary truce’. Keep hypocrisy to yourself”.

He said that unlike Russia, Ukraine was not attacking foreign territory or killing civilians, only destroying “members of the occupation army on its territory”.

Mr Podolyak had earlier rejected calls for a truce as “a cynical trap and an element of propaganda”.

He described the Russian Orthodox Church, which has endorsed the invasion, as a “war propagandist” that had incited the “mass murder” of Ukrainians and the militarisation of Russia.

Ukraine has previously dismissed the prospect of any Russian call for a ceasefire as an attempt by the Kremlin to secure some respite for its troops, which Ukraine is trying to force from territory Russia seized by force after its invasion last February.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7. Some Christians in Ukraine also mark the holiday on that date.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia and Ukraine made clear there would be no peace talks between them any time soon, effectively rejecting an offer of mediation by Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, who spoke separately to Mr Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Kremlin said President Putin had told President Erdogan that Russia was ready for talks – but only under the condition that Ukraine “take into account the new territorial realities”, a reference to acknowledging Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine’s Podolyak called that demand “fully unacceptable”.

Ten months after Mr Putin ordered an invasion of his neighbour and seized swathes of Ukrainian land, Russia and Ukraine have entered the new year with hardened diplomatic positions.

After major battlefield victories in the second half of 2022, Ukraine is increasingly confidant it can drive Russian invaders from more of its land.

The Turkish presidency said Mr Erdogan told Mr Putin on Thursday that a ceasefire was needed to end the conflict, and told Mr Zelensky that Turkey was prepared to serve as a mediator for a final peace.

Mr Erdogan has acted as a mediator in the past, notably helping to broker a United Nations-backed deal that unblocked Ukrainian ports to ship grain. He has also spoken by phone to the Russian and Ukraine leaders on the same day several times, most recently last month.

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