Ukraine announced on Thursday the recapture of a dozen villages in the Kherson region, south of Moscow, and confirmed it had begun a withdrawal, a fresh setback for Vladimir Putin’s army.
At midday, Ukrainian Army Chief of Staff Valery Zalushny announced Wednesday that his forces had “advanced seven km and captured six positions in the Petropavlivka-Novorayask direction” and captured “six positions.” Pervomaiske-Kherson’ direction.
Minutes earlier, the Russian army announced that it had begun an effective withdrawal into the Kherson region, moving its forces from the right bank to the left bank of the Dnieper River.
“Units of the Russian troop group are maneuvering to the positions set up on the left bank of the Dnieper River according to the plan,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The withdrawal, announced Wednesday, involves departures from the regional capital, the eponymous city of Kherson.
On Wednesday, the general in charge of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Sergei Surovykin, announced that the withdrawal would be “very quickly” to protect “the life of every Russian soldier,” without giving a timetable.
Specifically, Moscow seeks to consolidate its positions by establishing a defensive line behind the natural barrier of the Dnieper River.
On the Ukrainian side, this announcement was received unsuccessfully and cautiously, Kiev suspected a trap.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded with “extreme caution” on Wednesday, believing Moscow was “not giving a gift”.
The silence of the Kremlin
“We cannot confirm or deny information that Russian troops have been withdrawn from Kherson,” Ukrainian General Staff representative General Oleksiy Khromov told reporters on Thursday. But he also noted that with their backs to the Dnieper, the Russians had “no choice but to flee.”
In Mykolaiv, a large southern city about a hundred kilometers northwest of Kherson, residents are equally suspicious.
“We can’t believe, no one is going to return anything to us,” one seller, Svitlana Kritchenko, told AFP.
Elsewhere, Ukraine said without further details that its army had advanced “up to two kilometers” in the Luhansk region (east) in 24 hours.
The Kremlin declined to comment on him, and his spokesman’s daily briefing was canceled on Thursday.
U.S. President Joe Biden, whose arms shipments to Ukraine have been essential to Moscow’s setbacks in recent weeks, said the withdrawal announcement was “proof that (the Russians) have real problems.”
If confirmed, this withdrawal constitutes a new severe setback for Moscow, which was already forced to abandon the Kharkiv region (northeast) in September.
In particular, Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson, by the end of September, and on September 21 ordered the mobilization of some 300,000 reservists to consolidate Russian lines.
The Russian president had warned that Russia would defend what it now considers its territory “by all means”.
The symbol is particularly strong because Kherson, which had a population of 280,000 before the conflict, was the only regional capital captured by Russian forces. The region also borders Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Since the summer, the Ukrainian military, armed with Western weapons such as Himars high-precision rocket launchers, has gradually eroded Russian forces by knocking out bridges essential to supplying troops on the west bank of the Dnieper.
An opportunity for negotiation?
Kyiv’s victories have revived speculation about the resumption of peace talks, with some media reports saying the West is pushing Ukraine to resume peace talks.
A top US military official thus warned that military victory was impossible for both Kiev and Moscow.
“More than 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and wounded,” General Mark Milley said Wednesday at the Economic Club of New York. “The same thing may be on the Ukrainian side,” he added.
There must be a mutual recognition that “military victory, in the proper sense of the word, is unlikely to be achieved by military means,” said General Milley, who believed there was “a window of opportunity for negotiation.”
In a sign of a change in tone after US presidential adviser Jack Sullivan visited Kiev on Friday, President Zelensky on Monday listed his conditions for resuming talks with Moscow.
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