Steph Deschamps / January 7, 2023
Artillery duels continued Friday in Bakhmut, the frontline hot spot in eastern Ukraine, and shelling in other areas despite Moscow’s announcement of a 36-hour unilateral ceasefire, and as the United States pledged massive new military aid to Kiev.
This will be worth $3 billion and will include the supply of Bradley armored infantry vehicles, troop transports and howitzers, the White House revealed.
This victorious year has just begun,” the Ukrainian presidency immediately rejoiced, adding that the American “package” also includes Himars precision missiles and Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles.
This “will make us much more ready to face any escalation on the part of Russia and the strikes that this terrorist state inflicts on us, whether it is a holiday or a weekday,” said in turn the head of state Volodymyr Zelensky in person in the evening.
For the first time, we will have Bradley armored vehicles, which is exactly what we need. New guns and new projectiles, including high precision. New rockets. New drones. This is a timely and strong move,” he added.
He also welcomed “the significant step forward” of Germany, which indicated the same day that it would send 40 “Marder” tanks in the first quarter, following the lead of France, which announced on Wednesday a forthcoming delivery of AMX-10 RC light battle tanks.
In Bakhmut, which Russian soldiers have been trying to conquer since the summer, AFP journalists heard shooting on both the Ukrainian and Russian sides after the start of the truce announced on Thursday by President Vladimir Putin.
However, their intensity was lower than in previous days.
Dozens of civilians were gathered in a building used for the distribution of humanitarian aid, where volunteers held a small party for the Orthodox Christmas – celebrated on Saturday, distributing tangerines, apples and cookies, an hour before the theoretical entry into force of the Russian ceasefire.
For Pavlo Diatchenko, a local policeman, the truce is a Russian “provocation” that will not help the inhabitants of Bakhmut, whose streets are largely destroyed and deserted. “They are bombed day and night and almost every day there are people killed,” he lamented.
The Russian army assured to respect the ceasefire, accusing the Ukrainian troops of “continuing to bombard the cities and Russian positions”.
The deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, reported two Russian strikes on Kramatorsk (east) that hit a residential building without causing casualties. Earlier, before the truce, he had mentioned a Russian bombing on Kherson, in the south.
In the Lugansk region (east), local Ukrainian authorities mentioned 14 artillery strikes and three Russian assaults and civilians who “stay all day in their cellars ».
The pro-Russian separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine have, at the same time, reported Ukrainian shelling on their stronghold of Donetsk.
Appearing to comply with a call from the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, but also a proposal from the Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Putin asked his army to observe a “ceasefire on the entire line of contact between the belligerents from 12:00 noon on January 6 until 24:00 on January 7.
A date that corresponds to December 25, Christmas Day, in the Julian calendar still followed by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ukraine, however, has questioned the sincerity of the Russian initiative, seeing it as an “act of propaganda.
According to its president Volodymyr Zelensky, it is an “excuse to at least stop the advance of our troops in the Donbass”, a vast industrial region in the east, and to supply Russian soldiers with equipment and ammunition, while making them “get closer” to Ukrainian positions.
Vladimir Putin had called on Ukrainian forces to respect this truce in order, officially, to give the possibility to the Orthodox, majority in Ukraine as in Russia, to “attend religious services”.
The United States, via the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, denounced Friday a “cynical” approach, in view of the shooting observed during the day in eastern Ukraine.
The day before, U.S. President Joe Biden had already suspected Russia of just trying to “give itself air.”
“The answer that comes to all of us is skepticism in the face of so much hypocrisy,” commented on Friday the head of diplomacy of the European Union Josep Borrell.
Paris saw it as a “crude attempt on the part of Russia to hide its responsibility, while it continues to multiply abuses and relentlessly bomb the entire Ukrainian territory.
This ceasefire “will not advance the prospects for peace”, commented British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, calling for a withdrawal of Russian forces.
Such a truce will bring “neither freedom nor security” to Ukraine, said German diplomacy.
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