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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Real Message Of Putin’s Bogus Christmas Ceasefire

Vladimir Putin used the Orthodox Christmas holiday as a 36-hour communication ops, while plans proceed to widen his war in Ukraine.

Photo of camouflaged Russian tanks driving through a forest

Russian troops on camouflaged tanks

Pierre Haski

The announcement of the truce was all properly orchestrated: first a request from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril, famously close to the Kremlin, which was duly and promptly accepted by Vladimir Putin himself.

Russia thus decrees a unilateral ceasefire on Orthodox Christmas, from Friday noon to midnight Saturday (local time).

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It is the first truce since the beginning of the Russian invasion, just over 10 months ago. Yet unfortunately, this should not be seen as the prelude to any significant let up in the fighting.

The conditions for real negotiations do not exist, and if a proof was needed, Vladimir Putin offered it in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He says he is ready for a “serious dialogue” with Ukraine, he says, only if the authorities in Kyiv “take into account the new territorial realities.” That means they recognize the annexation in 2022 of four regions of Ukraine, plus Crimea that had already been annexed in 2014.

A religiously charged symbol

As you can imagine, Ukraine is not ready to accept these conditions: In his New Year’s message, Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to fight until “total victory,” which means not only the return to the borders of February 23, but to the ones of 1991, Donbas and Crimea included.

The Orthodox Christmas is charged this year with major symbolic weight. The Orthodox Church has experienced a schism between its Russian and Ukrainian branches, and the Patriarchate of Kyiv has given permission to the faithful to celebrate Christmas on December 25, according to the Gregorian calendar, and not on January 7, as the Julian calendar indicates.

But this difference is also very political: December 25 is one more step towards Europe, turning its back on Russia and its influence.

With Patriarch Kirill's blessing

The previous month, 19 monasteries and places of worship in Ukraine, still affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate, were raided by Ukrainian security services. They are suspected of supporting the Russian war effort, of forming a sort of “fifth column” in Ukraine.

This showdown is accentuated by the role of Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, who gives his blessing to Putin’s war, while part of the Russian propaganda denounces the Ukrainian leaders as “creatures of Satan.”

This ceasefire is therefore largely about communication. In fact, each side tries to show that it is not responsible for the continuation, and even the escalation of the war.

Photo of Russian President vladimir putin clapping his handsPutin in Moscow on Wednesday

Mikhail Metzel/TASS/ZUMA

More war in the works

Kyiv and Moscow say they are both full of good intentions to negotiate, but each time setting unacceptable requests to the other party.

A 36-hour ceasefire, in other words, does not make peace.

Right now, Ukraine believes it is able to continue its battlefield advantage, especially with the announcements of new deliveries of Western weapons, those from France this week, for example; while Putin is not about to recognize his defeat, and indeed appears to be preparing to widen the mobilization of the war effort.

A 36-hour ceasefire, in other words, does not make peace. On the contrary, more war is in the works, as we approach the first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s fateful decision to invade his neighbor.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner Group 2.0: Why Russia's Mercenary System Is Here To Stay

Many had predicted that the death last month of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meant the demise of the mercenary outfit. Yet signs in recent days say the private military outfit is active again in Ukraine, a reminder of the Kremlin's interest in continuing a private fighting formula that has worked all around the world.

Photograph of a Wagner soldier in the city of Artyomovsk, holding a rifle.

Ukraine, Donetsk Region - March 24, 2023: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).

Cameron Manley


“Let’s not forget that there is no Wagner Group anymore,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had declared. “Such an organization, in our eyes, does not exist.”

The August 25 statement from came less than two days after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the infamous Russian mercenary outfit, as questions swirled about Wagner's fate after its crucial role in the war in Ukraine and other Russian military missions around the world.

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How could an independent military outfit survive after its charismatic founder's death? It seemed highly unlikely that President Vladimir Putin would allow the survival of a group after had launched a short-lived coup attempt in late June that most outside observers believe led to Prigozhin's private airplane being shot down by Russian forces on August 23.

"Wagner is over,” said the Kremlin critic and Russian political commentator Maksim Katz. “The group can’t keep going. There’s the possibility that they could continue in parts or with Defense Ministry contracts, but the group only worked with an unofficial agreement between Putin and Prigozhin.”

Yet barely a month later, and there are already multiple signs that the Wagner phoenix is rising from the ashes.

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