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    ISW: Russia conducts ceasefire. It intends to damage Ukraine’s reputation

    The Russians would definitely benefit from a break in the fighting, assesses the US Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in a recent report. Analysts also point out that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire on Thursday is most likely an information operation designed to damage Ukraine’s reputation.

    On Thursday, Vladimir Putin instructed his Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu to declare a ceasefire on the front line in Ukraine from noon on 6 January to midnight on 7 January. The communiqué included a reference to Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on 7 January, and stated that the Russian side “called on Ukraine to accept the ceasefire” to give the faithful the opportunity to “attend services on the day of Russian Orthodox Christmas.”

    According to the ISW, Putin is thus seeking to provide the Russian military with a 36-hour break to give them the opportunity to rest, recover and regroup in order to resume offensive operations on key frontline sections. “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,” analysts assess.

    “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. As it was previously observed, the Kremlin has weaponized discussions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity to accuse Kyiv of oppressing religious liberties in Ukraine,”

    the think tank points out.

    Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov announced yesterday that Kyiv “does not intend to conduct any negotiations with Russia on the alleged truce proposed by the Kremlin to mark the Orthodox Christmas holidays”. “We will do on our own soil what we see fit,” he added.

    Strengthening Prigozhin’s position

    The ISW analysts also referred to the pardon of convicts fighting in Ukraine in the ranks of the Wagner group, announced by the commander of the so-called Wagnerians, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on the occasion of their return from the front. This was most “likely in a bid to inflate his influence and political power,” it assessed.

    “ISW has not observed any official Russian government source comment on whether the Wagner personnel did indeed receive these pardons. Under the Russian Criminal Code and Article 89 of the Russian Constitution, only the Russian President may issue a pardon to an individual, although regionally based pardon commissions and individuals may petition the Russian President to pardon specific individuals. It is possible that Prigozhin submitted petitions to pardon the former prisoners on their behalf. It is also possible that Prigozhin is claiming that the former prisoners received pardons when in actuality a Russian court may have issued them a “Release from Punishment” (a commuting of a prison sentence and/or other criminal punishment) or the State Duma of the Russian Federation granted the former prisoners amnesty. ISW has not observed any official Russian sources report that a Russian court or the State Duma has taken either of these legal actions on behalf of these former prisoners, although it is perfectly possible that they did,”

    ISW explains.

    Earlier reports had suggested that Wagner’s group had promised the prisoners “full exemption from their criminal punishment,” and not necessarily that the prisoners would receive a pardon, it recalled.

    According to ISW analysts, Prigozhin is using this legal ambiguity to bolster his position and show that he is able to arrange clemency towards the convicts. The commander of Wagner’s group also wants to strengthen the process of recruiting new volunteers and assure them of the benefits of going to war against Ukraine, experts add.

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