Ukraine live briefing: Putin’s Orthodox Christmas cease-fire order dismissed by Ukraine, U.S.

Ukrainian servicemen fire artillery at Russian troops in the Zaporizhzhia region Jan. 5. (Reuters)

Ukraine and Russia on Friday accused the other of continued shelling ahead of the Orthodox Christmas holiday, with Kyiv and its allies dismissing Moscow’s unilateral 36-hour cease-fire order as a potential ploy to regroup and move more troops and equipment to the battlefield.

“I can confirm that there is fighting,” Laura Cooper, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said at a news conference. “It’s Russians on the ground fighting.”

In his nightly address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a real cease-fire would come only when Russian troops withdraw from the country. In his address Friday, and in Christmas Eve remarks ahead of the Orthodox holiday, he did not mention the cease-fire.

Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the globe.

Key developments

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cease-fire began at noon Friday and is scheduled to run through Saturday, Orthodox Christmas. The Kremlin said the move was a response to an appeal from the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill is a fierce supporter of Putin and his bloody invasion of Ukraine. The truce applies to the entire front.
  • Some Ukrainians celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25 rather than the traditional Orthodox date, in part to distance themselves from Russia.
  • Some regional officials reported shelling around the time the cease-fire began, and fighting appeared to continue in Soledar, a city in the Donetsk region.
  • President Biden said he thinks Putin is “trying to find some oxygen” after 10 months of war and tens of thousands of casualties on the Russian side. He made the remark in a White House briefing. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a tweet that the “so-called” cease-fire would not bring freedom or security to Ukrainians.
  • The Biden administration announced Friday a $2.8 billion military aid package for Ukraine, the largest drawdown from U.S. defense stockpiles to date, and said it will include Bradley Fighting Vehicles, additional howitzers and various types of ammunition. The drawdown is part of $3.75 billion in new military assistance, including $682 million to allies and $225 million to build the “long-term capacity” of Ukraine’s military. The decision to supply Bradley Fighting Vehicles was first announced in a joint statement between Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday, and marks a significant policy shift after months of resisting Kyiv’s pleas for armored vehicles. In his nightly address, Zelensky praised the aid package as “exactly what [Ukraine] needed.”

Battleground updates

  • Shortly after the cease-fire was due to go into force at noon Friday, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said Russian shells had hit residential areas in the eastern Donetsk region. Around the same time, Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the military administration in Kherson in southern Ukraine, said one person was dead and four were wounded after a Russian attack. The exact timing of both attacks was unclear.
  • Russia has “overtly committed” to supporting militias from the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics, a British intelligence update said Friday. The militias were “formally integrated into the Russian armed forces on 31 December 2022. President Putin presented the formations with their battle colors during a visit to Rostov-on-Don.” However, it added that the militias “remain divisive” within the Russian system and are widely viewed as a “significant drain on Russian finances.”
  • There is no need for mass mobilization in Ukraine to fight the war, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a television interview. “But everything will depend on the situation at the front,” he said. “We do not have such a great need for people, as in Russia,” he added. “We need weapons … and equipment.”
  • The United Nations is disbanding a fact-finding mission it had formed to investigate a deadly attack on a prison in eastern Ukraine. In July, an explosion at Olenivka killed scores of Ukrainian prisoners of war — an attack that Moscow and Kyiv blamed on each other. U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a briefing Thursday that the team could not deploy without clear safety and access guarantees. “We didn’t feel we had received them,” he said.

Global impact

  • The U.S. State Department imposed new sanctions Friday on officials at the top of two Iranian organizations accused of providing military support to Russia. The statement calls Iran “Russia’s top military backer,” responsible for the production of unmanned aerial vehicles used in Ukraine and the development of Iran’s ballistic missile programs.
  • Japan’s prime minister said he’d been invited to visit Ukraine but had not yet decided whether he’d travel to the war-torn country. Fumio Kishida said he told Zelensky in a call Friday that he would weigh the Kyiv invitation based on “various circumstances,” but nothing was confirmed, Reuters reported. Kishida also called out “Russia’s continued aggression” in Ukraine, as Japan prepares to take up the rotating chair of the Group of Seven leading economies.
  • Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Angus King (I-Maine) met with Zelensky in Kyiv, touting the latest American aid for Ukraine. Reed, who will return to the U.S. by Monday, said in a statement that “we are at a decisive moment. And that providing equipment that the Ukrainian forces need will go a long way to concluding this successfully.”
  • Russia’s occupation of the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia is a “serious blow to humanity’s clean energy future,” the chief executive of Holtec International, an energy industry company, wrote in an open letter. Kris Singh wrote that Putin has “normalized a new horrendous instrument of war” that would put a “huge dent in humankind’s decarbonization aspirations.”

From our correspondents

For many of the 1,271 Americans under Russian sanctions, it’s a point of pride: From Harvard professors to Hollywood actors, more than 1,000 citizens from the United States have been added to Moscow’s “Stop List,” posted online by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, due to their support for Ukraine. The penalty of sanctions has proved a source of pride and bafflement for some, writes The Post’s Adam Taylor.

More than 1,300 Russians have been sanctioned by the U.S. financial system in recent years, as states increasingly turn to sanctions on individuals as a foreign policy tool of choice.

On Russia’s list are actors Ben Stiller, Sean Penn and Morgan Freeman, as well as politicians including President Biden and executives such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.