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Russian Church Head Calls for Ukraine Truce, Finds No Takers

January 5, 2023

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The head of the Russian Orthodox Church called Thursday for a 36-hour Christmas cease-fire in Ukraine at the end of this week, but his appeal looked unlikely to bring any breakthrough in halting the war that began last February with Russia’s invasion.

Moscow Patriarch Kirill suggested a truce from noon Friday through midnight Saturday, local time. The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. That is 13 days later than in the Gregorian calendar.

The proposal got short shrift from Kyiv officials, with Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak dismissing it as “a cynical trap and an element of propaganda.”

Kirill has previously justified Russia’s war in Ukraine as part of a “metaphysical struggle” to prevent a liberal ideological encroachment from the West.

Moscow officials made no immediate comment on Kirill’s overture. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Turkey’s president Thursday and the Kremlin said afterward that Putin “reaffirmed Russia’s openness to a serious dialogue” with Ukrainian authorities.

But that professed readiness came with the usual strings attached: that “Kyiv authorities fulfill the well-known and repeatedly stated demands and recognize new territorial realities,” the Kremlin said in a reference to Moscow’s demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia and acknowledge other illegal territorial gains.

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

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 neighboring country.”

“We have no indications that President Putin has changed his plans, his goals for Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech in Oslo.

Confronted with the Kremlin’s ambitions, Ukraine’s Western allies have renewed a vow to keep supporting the country for as long as it takes to defeat Russia.

In the latest pledge of military help, the French Defense Ministry said Thursday it plans talks soon with its Ukrainian counterpart on the delivery of armored combat vehicles. France’s presidency says it will be the first time this type of Western-made wheeled tank destroyer is sent to the Ukrainian military.

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

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 Thursday that at least five civilians were killed and eight wounded across the country by Russian shelling over the previous 24 hours.

The ongoing intense battle for Bakhmut has left 60% of the city in ruins, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks Thursday.

He said that the Ukrainian defenders were still holding the Russians back, but the Kremlin’s forces have pummeled the city with relentless shelling.

Bakhmut is a city in the eastern Donbas, an expansive industrial region bordering Russia.

Taking Bakhmut would not only offer Putin a major battlefield gain after months of setbacks, it would also rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on toward key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

Russia has battered Bakhmut for months.

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By ANDREW MELDRUM Associated Press

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