Wednesday , November 29 2023

Troops leaving strategic Kherson, Ukraine doubts full pullout


KYIV/ MOSCOW: Moscow ordered troops to withdraw from near the strategic southern Ukrainian city of Kherson in a major setback as a top US general estimated Russia has suffered more than 100,000 killed or wounded since invading its neighbor in February.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday announced Russian forces would retreat from the west bank of the Dnipro River near Kherson in what could be a turning point in the war.

Ukraine reacted with caution, noting some Russian forces remained in Kherson and reinforcements were being sent to the region.

“They are moving out but not as much as would be taking place if it was a full pullout or regrouping,” Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a video posted online on Wednesday night.

Russian forces were destroying bridges as they left and mining roads, Arestovych said.

“For the moment, we don’t know their intentions – will they engage in fighting with us and will they try to hold the city of Kherson? They are moving very slowly,” he said.

Kherson city was the only regional capital Russia captured after the invasion and it has been the focus of a Ukrainian counter-offensive. The city controls the only land route to the Crimea peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 and the mouth of the Dnipro River that bisects Ukraine.

Russian-installed officials have been evacuating tens of thousands of civilians from Kherson in recent weeks.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday welcomed the announcement of the Russian troop withdrawal in response to a question about prospects of talks between Moscow and Kyiv.

Erdogan has played a vital role as a go-between for Kyiv and Moscow since the start of the conflict, brokering the Black Sea grain deal and assisting in a number of prisoner exchangers, the only diplomatic breakthroughs in the eight-month conflict.

Shoigu told Surovikin: “I agree with your conclusions and proposals. For us, the life and health of Russian servicemen is always a priority. We must also take into account the threats to the civilian population.

“Proceed with the withdrawal of troops and take all measures to ensure the safe transfer of personnel, weapons and equipment across the Dnipro River.”

Ukrainian military analyst Yuri Butusov said the Ukrainian army’s use of US-supplied high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) had made river crossings so dangerous that “the defence of Russian positions here has become impossible”, “but let’s be clear. The Russian forces will take up defensive positions and it will be able to carry out new attacks. It will be able to maintain its positions on the east bank for a time,” Butusiov said in a YouTube video.

‘Step by step’

Ukrainian forces were strengthening their positions “step by step” in the south, Zelenskiy said in a Wednesday night address that mentioned Kherson just once, and warned that “the enemy will make no gifts to us.”

US President Joe Biden said Moscow’s order to withdraw from Kherson showed there were “some real problems with the Russian military.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking to Sky News during a visit to London, welcomed the news on Kherson but also warned that “Russia can still inflict a lot of damage.” (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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