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Ukraine news – live: Putin’s troops begin temporary ceasefire for Orthodox Christmas

Vladimir Putin‘s troops have started a short-term ceasefire along the front-line in Ukraine after it was unilaterally ordered by Moscow to mark Orthodox Christmas.

Mr Putin called for the truce to start at midday Moscow time (9 am UK) on Friday and last for 36 hours. “At noon today, the ceasefire regime came into force on the entire contact line,” Russian state TV station First Channel said. “It will continue until the end of January 7”.

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President Volodymyr Zelensky has rejected calls from the Kremlin for Ukraine to reciprocate, accusing Russia of wanting to halt Kyiv’s progress in the bitter fight in eastern Ukraine.

The US President Joe Biden was also skeptical: “I found it interesting. He [Putin] was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches… on the 25th and New Year’s. I think he’s trying to find some oxygen.”

Russian forces had raped up attacks on Ukraine during Christmas and New Year even though the Zelensky administration had called for respite.

Russia and Ukraine attacked each others positions in eastern Ukraine early on Friday, seemingly before the unilateral Russian ceasefire was due to start. Russian shells hit Kramatorsk, a Ukrainian city near the front-line in the industrial Donetsk region that Russia claims as its territory, the city mayor said.

“Kramatorsk is under fire. Stay in shelters,” mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko posted on social media. He did not give details of damage.

Russian shells hit Kramatorsk in Ukraine
On Christmas Eve for Russians and for many Ukrainian people, Russian shells have hit Kramatorsk, a city in the Donetsk region of Ukraine that Russia has claimed.

Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko said on social media: “Kramatorsk is under fire. Stay in shelters.”

There are not further details of damage at this stage.

The Kyiv Independent tweeted: “Mayor: Russian forces attack educational sites in Kramatorsk.

“Pictures posted by Mayor Honcharenko to Facebook show that Russian strikes hit a local design college and a mechanical engineering academy. No casualties were reported.”

Casualties as Russian soldiers shelled fire station in Kherson
Russian soldiers have “violated principles of international law” after shelling a fire station in Kherson, Ukraine, causing casualties.

Serhii Kruk, head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, said on the state emergency service Telegram channel on Friday: “The Russians have once again confirmed the fact that they cannot be trusted. Kherson. Another shelling of our unit. Dead and wounded.”

He said the act was “violating all the principles and norms of international law.”

It is the second time a fire department has been shelled within two days.

It is not yet known how many people are dead or injured as a result of the shelling.

Belarusian President visits military base where Russian troops stationed
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visited a military base where Russian troops are stationed, the defense ministry said on Friday.

During the meeting, Lukashenko and an unnamed representative from the Russian army discussed the two countries’ joint military drills, it said.

“At this stage, units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are ready to carry out tasks as intended,” the representative said.

Belarus, which is closely allied with Moscow, said on Thursday that it will receive more weapons and equipment from Russia as the two boost their military co-operation, fueling fears it could be used as a staging post to attack Ukraine from the north.

Minsk has said it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but Russia used Belarus as a launch pad for its invasion in February and continues to use Belarusian airspace for drone and missile strikes, Kyiv says.

Russian troops to begin temporary ceasefire
Putin’s troops are starting a temporary ceasefire in the Ukraine war from midday in Moscow (9 am UK time) on Friday to mark Orthodox Christmas.

The head of the Russian Orthodox church called for a truce to start today and last for 36 hours.

Zelensky has accused Putin of using the truce as a means to halt Kyiv’s progress in eastern Ukraine.

And US president Biden believes Putin is using the opportunity to “find some oxygen”.

He said: “I found it interesting. He [Putin] was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches… on the 25th and New Year’s. I think he’s trying to find some oxygen.”

Putin’s ceasefire announcement likely ‘intended to damage Ukraine’s reputation’
The US Institute for the Study of War (I S W) said Putin’s ceasefire announcements is likely an information operation to damage Ukraine’s reputation.

The I S W tweeted: “#Putin’s announcement that Russian forces will conduct a 36-hour ceasefire in observance of Russian Orthodox Christmas is likely an information operation intended to damage #Ukraine’s reputation.”

It added: “Putin cannot reasonably expect Ukraine to meet the terms of this suddenly declared ceasefire and may have called for the ceasefire to frame Ukraine as unaccommodating and unwilling to take the necessary steps toward negotiations.”

Putin ally fighting for salt and gypsum mines in Ukraine
Vladimir Putin’s close ally Yevgeny Prigozhin wants to take control of salt and gypsum mines near the Ukraine city of Bakhmut, a White House official has said.

Prigozhin is the founder of the Wagner Group, Russia’s most powerful mercenary force which has been critical in Russia’s offensive against Bakhmut.

A US official said it was believed money was the motivator behind Russia’s “obsession” with taking Bakhmut.

Militias from Luhansk and Donetsk to drain Russian finances – Mod
The absorption of militias from the Luhansk People’s Republic (L N R) and Donetsk People’s Republic (L P R) — carried out last week — is set to squeeze out Russian finances and weigh heavily on Moscow politically, the British defense ministry said today.

“The status and identities of the D N R and L N R likely remain divisive within the Russian system. Even before the February 2022 invasion, these territories represented a significant drain on Russian finances,” the defense ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

“Now the Kremlin has overtly committed to supporting them, they will likely constitute a large political, diplomatic and financial cost for Russia which will last well beyond the current phase of the conflict,” the MoD said, noting Russia’s claim over the L N R and D N R as “intrinsic parts of the Russian Federation” following the fixed accession referendums in September last year.

Russia has discreetly controlled both since 2014, creating D N R’s 1st Army Corps and L N R’s 2nd Army Corps and supporting them with Russian military officers, according to the ministry.

Satellite images capture extent of Bakhmut’s destruction
Fresh satellite imagery shows heavy destruction of eastern Ukrainian city Bakhmut.

Images taken on Wednesday reveal extensive damage to buildings, homes, infrastructure and the fields in and near Bakhmut, said space technology company Maxar.

Satellite views of Bakhmut showed extensive fortifications and “dragon’s teeth” tank obstacles that have been placed in fields and along roads east of the city.

Previously lush green forests and northeast highway intersections are seen neatly manicured in aerial views taken before the destruction of Bakhmut during the war.

Craters and charred grounds have replaced Bakhmut’s scenic fields. Additionally, the northeastern highway intersection has also been heavily damaged as seen in satellite images.

Putin’s ceasefire pause likely to help troops rest and recoup, to ‘frame’ Ukraine – report
Vladimir Putin’s call for truce could likely be to help his forces invading Ukraine catch a break before starting the offensive in critical positions on the front lines, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War (I S W).

“Putin could have been seeking to secure a 36-hour pause for Russian troops to afford them the ability to rest, recoup, and reorient to relaunch offensive operations in critical sectors of the front. Such a pause would disproportionately benefit Russian troops and begin to deprive Ukraine of the initiative,” the latest assessment by the US-based think-tank said.

It added that the Russian president “cannot reasonably expect Ukraine to meet the terms of this suddenly declared ceasefire and may have called for the ceasefire to frame Ukraine as unaccommodating and unwilling to take the necessary steps towards negotiations.”

The sudden need for a ceasefire “is an intentional information tactic that Russia has previously employed”, the I S W noted.

Russia’s intention to call for a ceasefire can also be used to “frame Ukrainian forces who continue to fight throughout the time-frame of the ceasefire as unwilling to work towards peace and wanting to fight at all costs.”

US to dispatch around 50 Bradley’s in $2.85 b n aid package
The US is sending about 50 Bradley fighting vehicles to Ukraine, two US officials said, confirming that the US army staple vehicle is part of the package worth roughly $2.8 b n (£2.35 b n).

This tranche of the security package for Ukraine is expected to be unveiled today, the officials said.

An armored vehicle with a powerful gun, the Bradley fighting carrier is manufactured by B A E systems Pl c and used by the US army to transport soldiers in battlefields since the mid-1980 s.

The Bradley is a light vehicle but more agile than a tank and can double up as a troop carrier.

The vehicle can help carry additional ammunition and communications equipment as the war heats up during the thick of winter. It has been offered as France also sent light A M X-10 RC armored combat vehicles to Ukraine amid debates if it qualifies as a tank.

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