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Putin says ready for talks, orders truce; Ukraine rejects both

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Russia is ready for a serious dialog with Ukraine aimed at ending the war if Kiev accepts the "new territorial realities."

The Kremlin also said President Putin had ordered a ceasefire over the Orthodox Christian Christmas, starting at midday on Friday.

A senior Ukrainian official dismissed the 36-hour ceasefire proposal as hypocrisy and propaganda, and said a "temporary truce" would be possible only when Russia leaves territory it has seized in Ukraine.

Ukraine's Western allies joined in dismissing the proposal. US President Joe Biden charged that Putin was "trying to find some oxygen" by floating the ceasefire. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said if Putin really wanted peace "he would bring his soldiers home".

"A so-called ceasefire brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation," Baerbock wrote on Twitter.

During a phone call on Thursday between the two leaders, Putin once again said Russia is open to dialog providing that Kiev accepts Russia's sovereignty over the Ukrainian regions that joined the Russian Federation last year.

"Putin again confirmed Russia's openness to serious dialog on the condition of Kiev authorities fulfilling the well-known and repeatedly voiced requirements of taking into account the new territorial realities," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Russia declared the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as part of its territory in September 2022 after holding referendums, despite not controlling them in their entirety. 

Moscow has repeatedly said it is open to peace talks but sees no willingness to negotiate on the part of Kiev.

Russia started its "special military operation" in Ukraine with the declared aim of "de-Nazifying" the country on February 24, 2022. Since then, the United States and Europe have imposed waves of unprecedented economic sanctions on Moscow and supplied large consignments of heavy weaponry to Kiev. The Kremlin has warned the sanctions and the Western military assistance will prolong the war.

In his comments, Putin told Erdogan about the destructive role the West has been playing by flooding arms into Ukraine.

"The Russian side emphasized the destructive role of Western states, pumping the Kiev regime with weapons and military equipment, providing it with operational information and targets," the Kremlin said.

The two leaders also discussed implementation of a landmark UN-brokered grain deal signed in Istanbul to export Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea and unblock Russian food and fertilizer exports. According to the Kremlin, the two leaders discussed "the unblocking of food and fertilizer supplies from Russia" and the need for "the removal of all barriers to Russian exports."  

Erdogan has repeatedly tried to bring Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to Turkey for a peace summit.

Germany under pressure for tanks deployment to Ukraine

During a phone call on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron told Zelensky that Paris would send Kiev light AMX-10 RC armored combat vehicles, which are manufactured by Nexter Systems for armored purposes and are described as light tanks.

This is the first time Western-made armored vehicles are being delivered in support of the Ukrainian army.

The move by Paris on Thursday put German Chancellor Olaf Scholz under more pressure to send Leopard tanks – long sought by Kiev. Berlin, until now, has persistently refused to supply Kiev with the tanks, arguing that no other Western partners had thus far provided such armaments. Critics now say Scholz can no longer hide behind that argument.

"The argument constantly advanced by the chancellery that Germany must not go it alone is absolutely out of date," said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who heads the parliamentary defense committee.

"France is once again taking on the role that was expected of Germany, and is going ahead alone," she said, adding, "The ball is in Berlin's court."

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a politician of the Free Democratic Party, also said Berlin's position needs to be reconsidered. Lambsdorff is likely to become Germany's new ambassador to Russia.

Ukraine suffers biggest economic fall in 3 decades due to war: Ministry

Preliminary data by Ukraine's Economy Ministry on Thursday showed the war-hit country suffered a 30.4-percent drop in gross domestic product in 2022. It said, however, that foreign aid and the "unbreakable spirit" of Ukrainian people helped prevent an even worse scenario.

According to Ukrainian Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko, who is also the first deputy prime minister, the decline in the GDP is the biggest since Ukraine won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"In 2022, the Ukrainian economy suffered its largest losses and damages in the entire history of independence, inflicted on it by the Russian Federation," she said in a statement.

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