Russian President Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Moscow's armed forces to hold a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine (Picture: The Kremlin).

Putin orders 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine

Russian President Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Moscow's armed forces to hold a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine (Picture: The Kremlin).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Moscow's armed forces to hold a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine this weekend for the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday, the Kremlin said.

The order follows a proposal by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, earlier in the day, which was dismissed by an official in the Ukrainian presidential office as propaganda.

"Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the day of the nativity of Christ," according to Mr Putin's order, addressed to defence minister Sergei Shoigu and published on the Kremlin's website.

Patriarch Kirill suggested a truce from noon on Friday through to midnight on Saturday local time.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on 7 January – later than the Gregorian calendar – although some Christians in Ukraine also mark the holiday on that date.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed Patriarch Kirill's call as "a cynical trap and an element of propaganda".

President Volodymyr Zelensky had proposed a Russian troop withdrawal earlier, before 25 December, but Russia rejected it.

Patriarch Kirill has previously justified the war as part of Russia's "metaphysical struggle" to prevent a liberal ideological encroachment from the West.

Mr Putin spoke by phone with Turkey's president on Thursday and the Kremlin said he "reaffirmed Russia's openness to a serious dialogue" with Ukrainian authorities.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Mr Putin to implement a "unilateral ceasefire", according to a statement from his office.

Watch: Inside Ukraine's battle to ward off Russian missile attacks.

Mr Erdogan also told Mr Zelensky later by telephone that Turkey was ready to mediate a "lasting peace".

He has made such an offer frequently.

It has already helped broker a deal allowing Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain, and it has facilitated a prisoner swap.

Russia's professed readiness came with the usual preconditions: that "Kyiv authorities fulfil the well-known and repeatedly stated demands and recognise new territorial realities", the Kremlin said.

This refers to Moscow's insistence that Ukraine recognise Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other illegal territorial gains.

Previous attempts at peace talks have fallen at that hurdle, as Ukraine demands that Russia withdraws from occupied areas at the very least.

Elsewhere, the head of Nato said he detected no change in Moscow's stance on Ukraine, insisting that the Kremlin "wants a Europe where they can control a neighbouring country".

"We have no indications that President Putin has changed his plans, his goals for Ukraine," Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in Oslo.

Ukraine's Western allies have renewed a vow to keep supporting Kyiv for as long as it takes to defeat Russia.

In the latest pledge of military help, the French defence ministry said it plans talks soon with its Ukrainian counterpart on delivering armoured combat vehicles.

France's presidency says it will be the first time this type of western-made wheeled tank destroyer is sent to Ukraine's military.

Also, US President Joe Biden said Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a medium armoured combat vehicle that can serve as a troop carrier, could be sent to Ukraine.

Watch: M2 Bradley – the armoured fighting vehicle the US could send to Ukraine explained.

The fighting in Ukraine has increasingly become a war of attrition in recent weeks, as winter sets in.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office, said on Thursday at least five civilians were killed and eight wounded across the country by Russian shelling in the previous 24 hours.

The ongoing intense battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut has left 60% of the city in ruins, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Ukrainian defenders were holding the Russians back, but the Kremlin's forces have pummelled the city with months of relentless shelling.

Taking the city in the Donbas region, an expansive industrial area bordering Russia, would not only give Mr Putin a major battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but it would also rupture Ukraine's supply lines and open the way for Moscow's forces to press on towards key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

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