Russia signals possible Kherson retreat, but Ukraine wary | Russia-Ukraine war News

A Moscow-installed official in the Kherson area indicated that Russian troops would likely withdraw from the west bank of the Dnieper, but as the United States issued an optimistic note about Ukraine’s ability to retake the city, Kherson Street to the south is strategically important, Kyiv said. more alert.

“Most likely our units, our soldiers, will move to the left (east) bank,” said Kirill Stremousov, deputy civilian administrator installed by the Russians in the Kherson region. in an interview on Thursday with Solovyov Live, a pro-Kremlin website. media company.

This area includes the city of Kherson, the capital of the region of the same name and the only major Ukrainian city that has remained intact since. Russia invades the country eight months ago. It also includes one side of a dam across the Dnieper, which controls the water supply to irrigate Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia seized and later annexed in 2014.

Previously, Russia had denied its forces were planning to withdraw from the area, with any retreat indicating a significant defeat for its forces.

On Thursday, senior officials in the Kremlin had no word of the photos circulating on social media of important buildings no longer flying the Russian flag.

(Al Jazeera)

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command, said that the retreat was likely a Russian trap and that the photos – shared on pro-Kremlin Telegram accounts – were informative false.

“This may be the manifestation of a specific provocation intended to give the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter while they are preparing for street battles,” he said. she said in televised comments.

‘Clear as mud’

Russia has been fighting for months to cling to the land it holds on the West Bank at the mouth of the Dnieper River that divides Ukraine.

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

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

“On the question of whether the Ukrainians can occupy the remaining territory west of the Dnipro [Dnieper] river and in Kherson, I definitely believe they have the ability to do that,” Austin said.

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

a main road showing white headlights and red taillights of cars in the dark of Kyiv with the Monument to the Fatherland in the background
Ukrainians are suffering from power outages as Russia attacks critical water and electricity infrastructure [Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo]

A Western official, speaking to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, assessed that Russia was planning to retreat east of the river so it could better protect its forces.

“We think that plan is almost certainly well underway,” the official said, adding that some Russian commanders had refused.

“We assess that in Kherson, it is likely that most of the commanders have now withdrawn across the river to the east, much to the dismay of the army and often in some cases facing the Ukrainians on the other side. other,” said the Western official.

However, Ukrainian troops on the frontline have been more cautious, telling Reuters reporters who visited last week that they have seen no evidence of Russian forces withdrawing and believe they are in fact , they are consolidating their positions.

Writing on Twitter, Michael Kofman, director of Russian Studies at the Center for Naval Analysis in Washington, DC, who recently returned from areas near the Kherson front, said Moscow’s intentions were unclear and fighting in Kherson was “difficult”.

He doubts Russia will give up the west bank of the river “without coercion”, but he also “could be wrong about this”.

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

‘Energy Terror’

With the fight increasingly focused on Kherson, Kyiv condemns what they say is “forced mass relocation“Of citizens living in areas occupied by Russia.

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

“Similar expulsions are also being carried out by Russia in the regions of Zaporizhia, Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as in Crimea.”

The Moscow-installed Kherson governor, Vladimir Saldo, said he was moving people further into the region or into Russia because of the risks of a “major missile attack”. Authorities established by Moscow there last week said 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 deliberately targeting civilians, although the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities and towns.

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

About 4.5 million Ukrainians in the capital Kyiv and 10 other regions lost power in the most recent blackout caused by Russian attacks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in southern Ukraine, the largest in Europe, is also the largest nuclear power plant in the world. disconnect from the grid after shelling damaged the remaining high-voltage lines, leaving the facility running solely on diesel generators.

“Russia’s use of energy terrorism shows the weakness of our enemies. They cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, so they try to break our people in this way,” Zelenskyy said.

Russian air strikes over the past month have destroyed about a third of Ukraine’s power plants, and the government has urged Ukrainians to save electricity as much as possible.

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