A Ukrainian soldier runs to a trench as a Russian jet fighter flies over on March 19, 2022. Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials warn that Russia will continue to launch missile and drone attacks against civilian infrastructure targets across the country in the coming days. Those warnings contrasted against an order by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, Jan. 5, for Russian forces to observe a 36-hour truce for Orthodox Christmas this week — a move that many Ukrainians perceive as a propaganda ploy meant to buy time for Russia’s beleaguered invasion forces.
"Of course, this is an exclusively propaganda gesture. And nothing more," Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Thursday. In media statements, Podolyak called Putin’s truce order "a banal trick" meant to buy time for Russian troops struggling to hold their ground on the battlefield.
In an interview with the Ukrainian news site, Ukrainska Pravda, Podolyak said: "Russia is trying in every possible way to reduce the intensity of fighting and the intensity of attacks on its logistics centers in order to get time for additional mobilization, the construction of large-scale fortifications in the occupied territories, and the regrouping of the army. This could not be done by any military means. Therefore, standard information tricks were used."
Regarding Putin's truce offer, Oleksii Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, wrote Thursday on Twitter: "There is a fairly simple solution: they pack their suitcases, take all their junk, and go to Russia. We will not negotiate with them on any truce."
As of this article's publication, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not yet publicly responded to Putin's planned truce.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers an address to Russia's Federal Assembly on April 21, 2021. Photo courtesy of Russian Presidential Administration.
After successful counteroffensives in the south and east, Ukrainian forces have now taken back roughly 40% of the territory Russia invaded after Feb. 24, 2022, according to a recent statement by Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.
With the war's momentum in their country's favor, many Ukrainians are therefore unwilling to give Russia any breathing room to reconstitute its forces as the war transitions into a bloody war of attrition.
“[Russia] will find any excuses to stop the Ukrainian advance. Those could be religious excuses, like what we've heard from Russian Patriarch Kirill. Those could be humanitarian excuses, anything,” Ivan Verstyuk, a Kyiv-based defense analyst, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
“Russians are looking for a chance — a one-week, a two-week truce — to reorganize how their troops operate in Ukraine. I don't think that's a sincere intention to resolve the war peacefully, that's just the Kremlin's tactical game,” Verstyuk said.
A destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kyiv in April 2022. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Putin reportedly ordered Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to effect a temporary cease-fire along the Ukrainian battlefront for Orthodox Christmas this Saturday, Jan. 7. Russian state media agency RIA Novosti reported the news. The cease-fire is supposedly set to begin at noon on Friday, Jan. 6, and last until midnight on Saturday.
According to RIA Novosti, Putin issued the decree after Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a promoter of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, appealed on Thursday for a Christmas truce. Putin reportedly said in a statement that the 36-hour truce would allow Orthodox Christian soldiers on both sides to "visit church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
“Absolutely no strategic or moral reason Ukraine should agree to this (which probably won't actually be implemented by Russian forces anyway). If anything, Ukraine should increase the tempo of their attacks along the front during this period,” Jimmy Rushton, a Kyiv-based British defense analyst, wrote Thursday on Twitter about the proposed truce.
About half of Ukrainians now celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, according to recent polling. And on Dec. 24, while many Ukrainians celebrated Christmas Eve, a Russian artillery attack killed at least 11 people, and wounded about 64, in the city of Kherson.
Many Ukrainians see Putin’s order as a cynical propaganda stunt meant to create the fiction that Russia, which launched the full-scale war in February to dismantle Ukraine as a sovereign country, is legitimately interested in peace.
Roman Kyryliuk, co-founder of the Dzyga’s Paw Charity Fund, which supplies equipment to Ukraine’s armed forces, described Putin’s truce order as a “trick” and a “propaganda stunt.”
"Putin is losing, Russians fear dying on Ukrainian land and they don't have the motivation to fight," Kyryliuk told Coffee or Die. "They need to regroup and deliver more weapons to their positions."
"It's just propaganda to dehumanize Ukrainians in the eyes of Russians," Oleksiy Bobovnikov, a Ukrainian soldier, told Coffee or Die about the Russian president's truce plan. "Nice try, Mr. Putin, nice try."
Rather than entertain Putin’s so-called truce proposal, Ukrainian leaders are warning civilians to be ready for more Russian missile and exploding drone attacks. Yuriy Ignat, spokesman for Ukraine’s air force, warned that Russia could launch a new wave of air attacks on Jan. 7, Orthodox Christmas.
“We just have to prepare for it," Ignat said on Jan. 2, the Ukrainian news outlet Ukrinform reported.
With its ground invasion stalled out and digging in for a defensive war of attrition on Ukraine’s southern and eastern front lines, Russia has resorted to a strategic air campaign, comprising missile and exploding drone attacks. The goal is to destroy Ukraine’s power grid and terrorize the civilian population.
Between New Year’s Eve and Jan. 3, Russia fired 94 Iranian-made, Shahed-136 exploding drones and 14 cruise missiles at Ukraine, including the capital city of Kyiv, Zaluzhnyy, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s military, reported. In a Jan. 2 video address, Zelenskyy warned of more Russian strikes in the upcoming days and weeks.
"We have information that Russia is planning a prolonged attack with 'Shaheds,'" the Ukrainian president said, referring to the Iranian-made exploding drones.
"[Russia's] bet may be on exhaustion. On the exhaustion of our people, our air defense, our energy sector," Zelenskyy said. "But we must ensure — and we will do everything for this — that this goal of the terrorists fails like all the others."
So far, Russia's strategic strike gambit has failed.
Recent polls show that Ukrainians’ will to resist has actually increased since Russia’s strategic air campaign began. A poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology from Dec. 4 to 27 found that 85% of Ukrainians are unwilling to make territorial concessions to Russia to end the war. That share is slightly up from the 82% of Ukrainians who were against territorial concessions in May.
Even so, Ukrainian leaders warn that Russia may attempt a new ground offensive in 2023 — including the possibility of another assault on the capital city of Kyiv.
“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can muster to try to turn the tide of the war and at least postpone their defeat,” Zelenskyy said in a Jan. 3 video statement.
“We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this. The terrorists must lose.”
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