Russian president says Moscow is willing to negotiate and accuses ‘geopolitical opponents’ of trying to divide Russia.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is being carried out to “unite the Russian people”.

Putin used the concept of “historical Russia” to argue in an interview to be aired on Sunday that Ukrainians and Russians are one people as he sought to justify his 10-month offensive in Ukraine and undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Russia’s “geopolitical opponents [were] aiming to tear apart Russia, the historical Russia”, Putin said in excerpts from a broadcast for Rossiya 1 national television.

“Divide and conquer, that’s what they have always sought to accomplish and are still seeking to do,” Putin said.

“But our goal is different: It’s to unite the Russian people,” the Russian president added.

Putin repeated that Moscow was ready to negotiate but said Ukraine and its Western allies have refused to hold talks.

Death toll rises

In southern Ukraine, the death toll from Russian attacks on the city of Kherson has risen to 16, and 64 people have been injured, the Ukrainian military governor of the region reported on Sunday as air raid sirens sounded across the country on Christmas Day.

Among the dead were three men who died while clearing mines, Yaroslav Yanushevych reported on Telegram.

The Ukrainian army counted 71 attacks on the partly recaptured region on Saturday, including 41 on its main metropolitan area.

Despite Russia’s retreat from the city, Kherson remains within reach of Moscow’s weaponry and under constant threat.

‘Senseless war’

From St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis appealed for an end to the “senseless” war in Ukraine during his traditional Christmas message.

“May the Lord inspire us to offer concrete gestures of solidarity to assist all those who are suffering, and may he enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war,” the head of the Roman Catholic Church said.

The Associated Press new agency reported on Sunday that some Ukrainians, who usually celebrate Christmas on January 7, as do the Russians, have changed their tradition as a reaction to Russia’s war.

The agency said that some Orthodox Ukrainians decided to observe the festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 like members of Western Christian churches.

In October, the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is not aligned with the Russian church and is one of the two branches of Orthodox Christianity in the country, agreed to allow the faithful to celebrate on December 25.

“What began on February 24, the full-scale invasion, is an awakening and an understanding that we can no longer be part of the Russian world,” Olena Paliy, a 33-year-old resident of Bobrytsia near Kyiv, told AP.

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