The US will provide a new weapons aid package for Ukraine and its neighbours worth more than $3.75bn (£3.1bn), the White House has announced, including for the first time several dozen Bradley fighting vehicles. The package includes a $2.85bn drawdown from the Pentagon’s stocks that will be sent directly to Ukraine and $225m in foreign military financing to build the long-term capacity and support the modernisation of Ukraine’s military, the White House said.
A unilateral 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine declared by Russian president Vladimir Putin came into effect on Friday. The ceasefire on “the entire contact line” would continue until the end of Saturday, Russia’s state first TV channel reported. The Russian president’s order came after Patriarch Kirill, head of the Orthodox church in Russia, called for a ceasefire and a Christmas truce in Ukraine to enable Orthodox people to attend services.
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy rejected Russia’s ceasefire proposal, which many observers have speculated is aimed to allow Russian soldiers to rest. The Ukrainian president claimed its goal was to halt the progress of Ukraine’s forces in Donetsk and the wider eastern Donbas region and bring in more of Moscow’s forces.
US president Joe Biden said Putin was “trying to find some oxygen” by floating the ceasefire, noting that the Russian leader did not implement the break on 25 December, which many Orthodox Ukrainians celebrate, or on New Year. Putin’s announcement was likely an information operation intended to damage Ukraine’s reputation, according to US thinktank the Institute for the Study of War.
Artillery exchanges pounded war-scarred cities in eastern Ukraine despite Putin’s ceasefire declaration. Outgoing and incoming shelling in the frontline city of Bakhmut was heard after the unilateral truce was supposed to have begun, Agence France-Presse reported. Russian forces also struck the city of Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian presidential administration said, as well as the frontline town of Kurakhove, where residential buildings and a medical facility were damaged.
Russian troops opened fire 14 times in Luhansk region during the first three hours of Moscow’s unilateral ceasefire, said the eastern Ukraine region’s governor, Serhiy Haidai.
Russia accused Ukrainian troops of shelling its military positions in the occupied Donetsk region just as the Moscow-declared ceasefire came into effect. Russian-installed officials in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic posted on Telegram that “six shells of 155 mm calibre were fired” from “155 mm Nato artillery guns”, Russian state-run news agency Tass reported.
Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed Russia is set to order the mobilisation of as many as 500,000 conscripts in January in addition to the 300,000 it called up in October. Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief, said Ukraine believed the conscripts would be part of a string of Russian offensives over the spring and summer in the east and south of the country.
Ukraine will need at least $1.79bn (£1.48bn) to restore its telecommunications sector to prewar levels, according to a United Nations report. Russia has “destroyed completely or seized” networks in parts of Ukraine, and communications infrastructure in more than 10 of the country’s 24 regions have been considerably damaged and destroyed, the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union said.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report