Putin orders 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine to mark Orthodox Christmas

Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed his defense minister to order Russian troops to hold their fire from noon on Friday until midnight on Saturday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sitting at a desk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin outside Moscow in December. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

LONDON — Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine after the head of the Orthodox Church called for a Christmas truce, the Kremlin said Thursday.

Putin instructed his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, to order Russian troops to hold their fire from noon on Friday until midnight on Saturday, a statement from the Kremlin read.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, called the truce “hypocrisy,” tweeting, “Ukraine doesn’t attack foreign territory & doesn’t kill civilians.”

Russia “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a ‘temporary truce,’” he continued.

Putin’s order comes after the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, requested that both Ukraine and Russia observe a truce over the Christmas holiday. Those who belong to the Orthodox Church celebrate Christmas in January.

Podolyak had called Kirill’s proposal “a cynical trap & an element of propaganda.”

Putin said in a statement released on Thursday, “Given the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire.”

The Russian president said the ceasefire would allow those “professing orthodoxy” to have the “opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ.” He added that it was based on the fact that “a large number” of worshippers “live in combat areas.”

Aside from allowing local truces to evacuate civilians, Putin’s order is the first time the Russian president has directed troops to follow a ceasefire since his country invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

Less than a month ago, Kremlin spokesman ​​Dmitry Peskov said the prospect of a “Christmas ceasefire” was “not on the agenda.” He told reporters on Dec. 14 that “no such offers have been received from anybody.”

Kirill has long been an ally of Putin’s and appeared to support Russia’s so-called “special operation” in Ukraine. “We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance,” he said in March. Months later in September, when Putin ordered a partial mobilization, Kirill told civilians to “go bravely to fulfill your military duty.”

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Putin to proclaim a “unilateral ceasefire” and open dialogue with Kyiv officials.