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Russia declares two-day cease-fire in Ukraine for Orthodox Christmas

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill attends an expanded meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board in Moscow on December 21. Photo by Mikhael Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/EPA-EFE
1 of 3 | Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill attends an expanded meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board in Moscow on December 21. Photo by Mikhael Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/EPA-EFE

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- As shelling killed three people in Ukraine's Kherson region Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia will halt fighting in Ukraine temporarily for the Orthodox Christmas.

Putin said he made the decision for a two-day cease-fire, beginning Friday, after a request from the Moscow patriarch of the Orthodox Church, who is known as Kirill.

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"I, Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, appeal to all parties involved in the internecine conflict with an appeal to cease fire and establish a Christmas truce from noon on 6 Jan. to midnight on 7 Jan., so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and the day of the Nativity of Christ," Kirill said in a post on the church's website.

"Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the minister of defense of the Russian Federation to introduce from 12:00 Jan. 6, 2023 until 24:00 Jan. 7, 2023, a cease-fire along the entire line of contact between the parties in Ukraine," Putin said in a statement.

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Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also urged a cease-fire Thursday. In separate calls with Putin and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Erdogan said his nation is ready to help facilitate peace in the conflict.

Also Thursday, Belarus said its military will continue grouping with Russian forces stationed in that country.

"As part of ensuring the military security of the union state, the buildup of the regional grouping of troops (forces) of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation continues," the Belarusian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Belarus has faced international criticism in response to its support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The assault on Kyiv in the early weeks of the war was launched from Belarus.

U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed Wednesday that the United States is considering sending Bradly Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine. The armored fighting vehicles are a staple of U.S. Army deployments and are considered reliable weapons even after their four decades of service. The United States is preparing the next generation of fighting vehicles to replace the Bradley.

A Ukrainian intelligence assessment seen by CNN determined that an Iranian-supplied drone that was shot down last fall contained parts from more than a dozen American and Western companies.

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Iran has long boasted of capturing U.S. drones and at least some Iranian drone technology is reverse-engineered from captured American technology.

In other developments in the conflict, video has emerged showing Kremlin-linked Russian businessmen and Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin congratulating a group of prisoners who returned from fighting for the mercenary army in Ukraine.

"These are warriors. They're born warriors and now they've seen they are warriors," Prigozhin says in the video.

The Wagner Group has been implicated in war crimes in Mali and Syria. Human Rights Watch accuses the group of being behind the March Moura massacre alongside allies from the Malian army, killing more than 300 civilians.

In 2017, Wagner mercenaries filmed themselves beating a Syrian civilian to death and decapitating his body.

Last summer, video emerged of Prigozhin recruiting fighters from inside a Russian prison.

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