Russia’s defense minister announced on television on Wednesday that he had ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from the strategically important southern city of Kherson, in a possible blow to President Vladimir Putin’s war efforts. But Ukrainian officials have expressed doubts that the Russians will withdraw completely.
The statement by Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, in a televised meeting with senior army officers, came after General Sergei Surovkin, commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, told Mr. Shoigu that the decision was “difficult” but that the withdrawal would “preserve lives.” Soldiers and combat readiness of the troops.
Standing in front of the podium and noting troop movements on a map of Ukraine that were inconspicuous, General Sorovukin cited Ukraine’s relentless bombardment, difficulty in maintaining crossing points and potential flooding of the area as the main reasons for the withdrawal.
“Under these conditions, the city of Kherson and its neighboring settlements cannot be fully equipped,” he said. “After a thorough assessment of the current situation,” he added, he will take over the defense along the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
“Proceed with the withdrawal of troops and take all measures to ensure the safe transfer of troops, weapons and equipment to the other bank of the Dnipro River,” Shoigu responded.
In his overnight speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to cautiously welcome the announcement, saying: “There is a lot of joy in the information space today, and it is clear why. But our emotions must be restrained.”
He added that the liberation of Kherson, Kakhovka, Donetsk and other cities will come from “the result of our defense efforts and operations – those currently underway and those we are still planning.”
Ukraine has warned that Russia may try to pretend to withdraw in the hope of drawing Ukraine into fighting in the cities. The army was tracking signs of a Russian withdrawal until Wednesday but was not convinced that the Russian army intended to fully withdraw from the city of Kherson and from the surrounding Russian bridgehead on the western bank of the Dnipro River, according to Roman Kostenko, an army colonel. Chairman of the Defense and Intelligence Committee of the Verkhovna Rada.
“We have signs that they are withdrawing,” Colonel Kostenko said in a telephone interview. They blew up the bridges that would have allowed our troops to advance. We see them leave the population centers, but in some they leave the soldiers behind to cover their movements.”
He said that Ukrainian intelligence agencies were assessing Russia’s moves, and suggested that the Russian announcement might be disinformation. “We’re watching,” Colonel Kostenko said.
Mikhailo Podolak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, was more cautious and said the country does not rely on “fabricated television data” from the Russians. “Actions speak louder than words,” wrote on Twitter. “We see no signs that Russia will leave Kherson without a fight.”
he is too Reuters: “Until the Ukrainian flag flies over Kherson, it makes no sense to talk about a Russian withdrawal.”
The withdrawal from Kherson would be a great victory for Ukraine, which had long sought to retake it and push Russian forces from the western bank of the Dnipro River. It is the only regional capital that has fallen to Russian forces since their invasion in February, and the withdrawal would also be a humiliating defeat for Putin, who Western intelligence officials said He had refused previous requests from commanders to allow them to withdraw.
Vital port on the Black Sea, Kherson fell under Russian control Less than a week after the invasion. The shipbuilding city about 340 miles from the Ukrainian capital is an important node for access to the Black Sea and a gateway to Crimea. Kherson region was also one of four regions illegally annexed by Putin in late September.
Officially, the Pentagon confirmed as recently as Tuesday that it is unclear what Russia’s plans are regarding Kherson. But a Biden official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly, said that by withdrawing across the river, Russia was trying to maintain its strength to fight another day.
Colonel Kostenko said that by Wednesday evening, Ukrainian soldiers had entered some standoff villages that were under Russian control before the withdrawal of Russian forces earlier in the day. He said that Ukrainian army informants had reported the departure of Russian soldiers from towns and villages far from the front.
“They’re leaving step by step,” he said, moving the heavy weapons first while leaving an infantry rearguard to cover the retreat.
Helen Cooper Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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