A Kremlin-ordered cease-fire in Ukraine has come into effect, Russian state media reported Friday.
“At noon today, the cease-fire regime came into force on the entire contact line,” Russia’s state media First Channel reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he ordered the cease-fire, based on the guidance of Russian influential Orthodox bishop Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
The unilateral cease-fire will last until the end of January 7, in accordance with Orthodox Christmas.
It’s unclear whether Russian forces will actually follow through with the cease-fire. The Kremlin ordered the truce to begin at 12:00 pm, but did not specify which time zone they were referring to.
Reporters employed by AFP news agency in Ukraine said they heard shelling in the front line eastern city of Bakhmut when the cease-fire was supposed to be in effect.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed skepticism regarding the Kremlin’s intentions.
“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our guys in the (eastern) Donbas (region) for a while and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized people closer to our positions,” Zelenskyy said, referring to Russia.
Kramatorsk, near the front line in the eastern Donetsk region, was hit with Russian shelling early on Friday.
“Kramatorsk is under fire. Stay in shelters,” Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko said in a social media post.
Here are the other main headlines from the war in Ukraine on Friday, January 6:
Putin celebrates Orthodox Christmas in Kremlin cathedral
Russian President Vladimir Putin has attended an Orthodox Christmas service by himself inside a Kremlin cathedral.
According to Russia’s state RIA news agency, this was the first time in years Putin marked Christmas in Moscow rather than in the region around it.
State television showed two clips of Putin inside the Cathedral of the Annunciation as priests conducted the midnight service.
Russia condemns German plan to send 40 Marder armored vehicles to Ukraine
Following the announcement by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday that his government is planning to send around 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, the Russian Embassy in Berlin on Friday said that such a move would cross a “moral line” and brought up Nazi war crimes committed against Russians in World War II.
The decision to send the military vehicles came after France said it would be delivering light tanks. The US has also said it will send Bradley infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine.
“Our joint efforts will noticeably strengthen the assertiveness of the Ukrainian armed forces,” German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in a statement.
“Germany will also provide the necessary training and — in consultation with industry — spare parts supply and maintenance. Together with our allies, we are once again demonstrating that we stand together in support of Ukraine and act in a united and closely coordinated manner.”
The announced delivery was also welcomed by Kyiv, with Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk referring to the “correct by very belated decision.”
Melnyk, who served as ambassador to Germany until last year, told the German news portal t-online that Kyiv had had to wait 316 “very long, bloody days of war” for Germany to finally agree to send heavy weapons.
Ukraine Church holds Christmas service in historic monastery amid dispute
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was granted permission by Kyiv to hold a Christmas service in the almost 1,000-year-old Monastery of the Caves — also known as the Pechersk Lavra, Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said on Friday.
The OCU, which is independent from the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, has been granted permission after the rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) — which only cut contact with Moscow after the Russian invasion.
The UOC’s lease on the monastery complex ran out at the end of 2023, but Kyiv has so far refused to renew it. The UOC has called the move unlawful, saying the move was made without giving due time.
Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 6 and 7, with the OCU planning to hold its mass on Saturday 7.
EU foreign policy chief says Russian cease-fire is ‘not credible’
The head of the EU’s foreign policy, Josep Borrell, said on Friday that “The Kremlin completely lacks credibility” and that its call “for a unilateral cease-fire is not credible.”
Borrell was speaking during a visit to Morocco.
He said that without concrete steps by Russia to withdraw its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory, the declared cease-fire was just “an attempt by Russia to buy time and regroup its troops and to try to restore its badly damaged international reputation.”
German politicians urge delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine
Some German politicians are calling for the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine, after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government said it would send Marder infantry vehicles to the country.
German Green Party lawmaker Anton Hofreiter said Berlin should send German-built Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. The Green Party is part of Scholz’s three-party coalition government.
The Leopard 2 tanks are heavier than the Marder infantry vehicles, and are armed with a battle cannon.
“The strategy must be that we support Ukraine with everything they need on the battlefield and this includes much more,” Hofreiter said.
Since Germany is the main producer of the Leopard 2, he called for a European initiative to deliver the battle tanks and deliver Ukraine everything they need to take back land from Russia.
Hofreiter said one step to take would be training Ukrainian soldiers to operate the Leopard 2 tanks, which should begin immediately.
Alexander Dobrindt, a member of the German parliament belonging to the opposition Christian Social Union (CSU), also called for the deliveries of Leopard 2 tanks.
“We see that the Ukrainian soldiers simply need these weapons for self-defense,” Dobrindt said.
German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said the government could not make any promises as of now regarding the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks.
At the same time, German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Friday that all operational Marder vehicles should be dispatched to Ukraine. The German government said about 40 Marders would be sent to the country and would come from army and industrial reserves.
In addition to armored Marder carriers, Germany also vowed to provide Ukraine with a Patriot missile battery for air defense. The deliveries of the Marders and Patriot missile batteries are expected in the first quarter of the year, according to the government.
Lukashenko visits Russian troops in Belarus
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko visited a joint group of Russian and Belarusian troops on Friday, according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry. The visit occurred at the Obuz-Lenovsky combat training range.
Lukashenko met with an unnamed Russian representative during the meeting, where the two countries discussed joint military exercises.
Lukashenko said that “the experience gained through the integration of military units and formations has a great significance for Belarus.”
The visit comes amid fears that Russia could use Belarus as a launching pad for attacks on Ukraine. There are approximately 9,000 Russian soldiers stationed on Ukrainian territory.
ab, wd/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)