Russia signals possible withdrawal of Kherson, but Ukraine cautious | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine

Russia signals possible withdrawal of Kherson, but Ukraine cautious | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine

An official posted by Moscow in the Kherson region has hinted that Russian troops may withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper river, but as the United States sounded optimistic about Ukraine’s ability to retake the strategically important southern city of Kherson, Kiev is more cautious.

“Most likely, our units, our soldiers, will go to the left (east) bank,” Kiril Stremousov, the Russian-appointed deputy civilian administrator of the Kherson region, said in an interview Thursday with Solovyov Live, a pro-Kremlin online media outlet.

The area includes the city of Kherson, the capital of the region of the same name and the only major Ukrainian city captured intact by the Russia invaded the country eight months ago. It also includes one side of the dam across the Dnieper, which controls the irrigation water supply to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia seized and later annexed in 2014.

Russia has previously denied that its forces plan to withdraw from the area, and any withdrawal represents a significant defeat for its forces.

There was no word from senior Kremlin officials on Thursday, as photos of key buildings no longer flying Russian flags circulated on social media.

(Al Jazeera)

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s military command in the south, said talk of a withdrawal could be a Russian trap and the photos – shared on pro-Kremlin Telegram accounts – disinformation.

“This could be a manifestation of a certain provocation in order to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street fights,” she said in televised comments.

‘Clear as mud’

Russia has been fighting for months to hold on to a pocket of land on the west coast at the mouth of the Dnieper River that divides Ukraine.

Ukraine has advanced since early October, attacking the main bridges across the river and making it difficult for Russia to continue supplying its troops on the west bank.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking at the Pentagon on Thursday, did not answer a question about whether Russian forces were preparing to leave, but expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to strike back.

“On the issue of whether the Ukrainians can occupy the remaining territory on the western side of the Dnieper [Dnieper] in the river and in Kherson, I certainly believe they have the ability to do that,” said Austin.

“Most importantly, Ukrainians believe they have the ability to do it. We have seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to reclaim their sovereign territory.”

main road showing white car headlights and red taillights in the darkness of Kiev with the Motherland Monument in the background
Ukrainians suffer constant blackouts as Russia hits key power and water infrastructure [Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo]

A Western official, speaking to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said Russia plans to withdraw east of the river to better defend its forces.

“We think that planning is almost certainly well advanced,” the official said, adding that some Russian commanders had already relocated.

“We would estimate that in Kherson it is likely that most of the command echelons have now retreated across the river to the east, leaving fairly demoralized and often in some cases leaderless troops to face the Ukrainians on the other side,” the Western official said.

However, Ukrainian troops on the front line are more cautious, telling Reuters reporters who visited last week that they saw no evidence that Russian forces were withdrawing and believed they were actually strengthening their positions.

Writing on Twitter, Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the Center for Naval Analyzes in Washington, who recently returned from an area near the Kherson front, said Moscow’s intentions were unclear and the fighting in Kherson was “tough.”

He doubted that Russia would leave the west bank of the river “without being forcibly pushed out”, but he also “could be wrong about that”.

“The situation in Kherson is as clear as mud,” Kofman wrote.

‘energy terrorism’

With the war increasingly focused on Kherson, Kiev condemned what it said was “mass forced relocation” of its citizens living in regions occupied by Russia.

“The Russian occupation administration has begun mass forced relocation of residents from the left bank of the Kherson region… to the temporarily occupied Crimea or to Russia,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

“Similar deportations are also carried out by Russia in the regions of Zaporozhye, Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as in Crimea.

The Moscow-appointed governor of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, said he was moving people further into the region or into Russia because of the risk of a “massive missile attack”. Moscow-appointed authorities there said last week that 70,000 civilians had fled their homes on the right bank of the Dnieper.

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of war crimes during the eight-month war, charges Moscow denies. Russia denies that it deliberately targeted civilians, even though the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities and towns.

Recent attacks on Ukraine’s energy and water supplies have hit civilians hard as winter approaches, a time when temperatures can drop well below zero degrees Celsius.

About 4.5 million Ukrainians in the capital Kyiv and 10 other regions were left without power in the latest blackouts caused by Russian attacks, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address overnight.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in southern Ukraine, Europe’s largest, was also unplugged after the shelling, the remaining high-voltage lines were damaged, so the plant remained running only on diesel generators.

“The very fact that Russia is resorting to energy terrorism shows the weakness of our enemy. They cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, so they are trying to break our people in this way,” said Zelensky.

Russian strikes last month destroyed about a third of Ukraine’s power plants, and the government urged Ukrainians to conserve electricity as much as possible.

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