Putin’s ‘Christmas truce’ likely info-op aimed at damaging Ukraine’s reputation, says ISW

6 January, 12:17 PM
Ukrainian military on the front line in the Kherson Oblast (Photo:REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Ukrainian military on the front line in the Kherson Oblast (Photo:REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russian forces will conduct a 36-hour ceasefire between Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 in observance of Russian Orthodox Christmas is likely an information operation intended to damage Ukraine’s reputation.

That’s according to U.S. think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which commented on Putin’s offer of a Christmas ceasefire in its Jan. 5 report.

ISW analysts noted that Ukrainian and Western officials, including U.S. President Joe Biden, immediately highlighted the hypocrisy of the ceasefire announcement and emphasized that Russian forces continued striking Ukrainian military and civilian infrastructure on Dec. 25 – when many Orthodox Ukrainians celebrate Christmas – and New Year’s.

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The ISW also pointed out that 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.

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 towards negotiations. This is an intentional information tactic that Russia has previously employed, as ISW has reported.

According to the analysts, ceasefires also take time to organize and implement. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov notably said on Dec. 14 that Russia has no plans for a ceasefire for Russian Orthodox Christmas, so Putin’s sudden Jan. 5 announcement was surprising. The date of Russian Orthodox Christmas in 2023, after all, has been known for centuries. Had Putin been serious about a religiously motivated ceasefire he had ample time to prepare for it.

In addition, as mentioned by ISW experts, Putin’s framing of the ceasefire on religious grounds additionally reinforces another two-fold Russian information operation that frames Ukraine as suppressing religious groups and positions Putin as the true protector of the Christian faith.

Meanwhile, the pro-war Russian milblogger (military blogger) information space responded to the ceasefire announcement with vitriolic discontent. Several prominent milbloggers emphasized that Russian soldiers do not want a ceasefire at all and remarked that it is a useless, defeatist ploy that is unlikely to succeed in the first place.

One milblogger who was previously embedded with Russian units in Bakhmut and attended the annexation ceremony at the Kremlin in September employed overtly genocidal, dehumanizing rhetoric in response to the ceasefire and stated that Russian soldiers do not want compromise: They “want to kill every person dressed in the uniform of the enemy army, regardless of gender and the circumstances that forced the subhuman (sic) to wear this uniform.”

The ISW summed up that the use of a ceasefire as an information operation, coupled with Putin’s continued propagation of maximalist goals in Ukraine, continues to indicate that Putin has no desire to actually negotiate with Ukraine.

If and when Putin becomes serious about seeking compromises that Ukraine and the West could seriously contemplate accepting, he will have set conditions with the vocal and prominent nationalist community he is currently empowering and courting. He could threaten, marginalize, de-platform, co-opt, or cajole the pro-war milbloggers into accepting more limited objectives, but such activities would be apparent in the information space.

As long as Putin continues to give air and prominence to such extremists, however, it will remain clear that he does not intend to abandon his maximalist aims, ISW said.

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