Russia-Ukraine War Russia Says It’s Withdrawing From Kherson City, a Potential Blow to Moscow

Russia Wants to divide European support for Ukraine and keep Crimea through the peace negotiations.The timing is based on the American election results (AB)

The strategic city has been the only regional capital to fall to Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine in February. A Russian retreat would be a major victory for Kyiv’s forces.

Ukrainians see signs of a Russian retreat from Kherson City but are wary.

An aerial view of the city of Kherson, Ukraine, in May.
An aerial view of the city of Kherson, Ukraine, in May.Credit…Andrey Borodulin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia’s defense minister on Wednesday ordered the retreat of Moscow’s forces from the strategically important southern city of Kherson, in a potentially serious blow to President Vladimir V. Putin’s war effort.

The move — announced on television — came after Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the commander for Russia’s forces in Ukraine, told Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, that the decision was “difficult” but that a withdrawal would “preserve lives of servicemen and combat readiness of forces.”

The Ukrainian military had warned that Russian forces might try to feign a retreat in hopes of drawing them into urban combat.

The military had through Wednesday been tracking signs of a Russian retreat but was not convinced the Russian military intends to fully withdraw from Kherson City and the surrounding Russian bridgehead on the western bank of the Dnipro River, Roman Kostenko, a colonel in the army and chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament, said in a telephone interview.

“We have signs they are pulling out,” Colonel Kostenko said. “They blew up bridges that would have allowed our forces to advance. We see them leaving population centers, but in some they leave soldiers behind to cover their movements.”

Ukrainian intelligence agencies were working to assess Russia’s movements, he said, and noted that the announcement could be misdirection from the Russian military.

“We understand it is Russia” making the announcement, he said. “We are watching.”

Deep anxiety about the announced withdrawal coursed through the reports from influential Russian military bloggers throughout Wednesday, with many seeing it as a betrayal.

“The decision is shocking to thousands and millions of people who are fighting for Russia, dying for Russia, believe in Russia and share the beliefs of the Russian world,” wrote Yuri Kotyonok, an influential blogger.

A retreat from the city of Kherson would be a major victory for Ukrainian forces, who have long sought to recapture it and push back Russian troops from the western bank of the Dnipro River. It is the only regional capital under Moscow’s control, and the withdrawal would also be a humiliating public rout for Mr. Putin, who Western intelligence officials said, had rejected earlier requests from commanders that they be allowed to pull back from the city.

The Russian-appointed civilian administration had already fled to new headquarters east of the Dnipro, and residents have reported widespread looting by Russian forces. The residents of Kherson have been without power for four days, and communications have been severed.

Serhii Khlan, the exiled deputy governor of the Kherson region, said on Wednesday that the conditions for tens of thousands of civilians were growing more dire. “Kherson is on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

A Russian retreat from Kherson would have both strategic and symbolic importance. The vital Black Sea port was the first major city to fall to Russian control less than a week after the invasion. Kherson, a shipbuilding city about 340 miles from Ukraine’s capital, is an important node for access to the Black Sea and a gateway to Crimea. It also provides access to Ukraine’s southern coastline for invading Russian forces.

The withdrawal would also have added resonance because the city is the capital of Kherson region, one of four that Mr. Putin illegally annexed and claimed as part of Russia in late September even as his troops were facing a major counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops. In September, Ukraine’s military recaptured hundreds of square miles of territory, strategic towns and abandoned weapons in the north east of the country.

New York Times – November 9, 2022

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