On Thursday, Ukraine announced the restoration of dozens of villages in the Kherson region in the south of the country, and Moscow confirmed that it had begun its withdrawal, which represents a new setback for Vladimir Putin’s army.
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At midday, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army Valery Zaluzhny announced that on Wednesday his forces had advanced “seven kilometers, took control of six localities in the direction of Petropavlevka – Novorayask” and also captured “six localities”. In the direction of Pervomaisky – Kherson.
A few minutes earlier, the Russian army announced that it had already begun its withdrawal within the Kherson region, moving its forces from the right bank to the left bank of the Dnieper.
“Units of the Russian forces unit are maneuvering to positions erected on the left bank of the Dnieper River, according to the plan,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
This withdrawal, announced on Wednesday, includes an exit from Kherson, the capital of the region.
The general in charge of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Sergei Surovkin, announced Wednesday that the withdrawal would take place “very quickly” in order to preserve “the life of every Russian soldier,” without giving a timetable.
Concretely, Moscow seeks to strengthen its positions by creating a line of defense behind the Dnieper River, which is a natural obstacle.
On the Ukrainian side, the declaration was received without victory and with caution, Kyiv suspected a trap.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded with “extreme caution”, believing that Moscow “does not give a gift.”
The silence of the Kremlin
“We can neither confirm nor deny information regarding the alleged withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson,” General Oleksich Gromov, a representative of the Ukrainian General Staff, told the press on Thursday. But he also noted that with their appearance on the Dnieper, the Russians “have no choice but to flee.”
In Mykolaiv, a large southern city about a hundred kilometers northwest of Kherson, residents are equally suspicious.
“We cannot trust, no one will return anything like this to us,” saleswoman Svetlana Kirichenko told AFP.
On the other hand, Ukraine also announced the advance of its army “up to two kilometers” within 24 hours in the Lugansk region (east), without further details.
The Kremlin has not commented on it, as its spokesman’s daily briefing on Thursday was cancelled.
US President Joe Biden, whose weapons sent to Ukraine have been essential in defeating Moscow in recent weeks, said the withdrawal announcement was “proof that (the Russians) have real problems”.
If this withdrawal is confirmed, it constitutes a new cruel setback for Moscow, which was already forced to abandon the Kharkiv (Northeast) region in September.
Especially since Vladimir Putin had claimed at the end of September to annex four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson and ordered on September 21 to mobilize about 300 thousand reserve soldiers to unite the Russian lines.
The Russian president has warned that Russia will defend “by all means” what it now considers its territory.
The symbol was even stronger because Kherson, 280,000 inhabitants before the conflict, was the only regional capital occupied by Russian forces. The region also borders Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014.
Since the summer, the Ukrainian army, armed with Western weapons, such as high-precision Hemar missile launchers, has gradually exhausted the Russian forces by bombing the bridges necessary to supply the troops on the western bank of the Dnieper River.
chance for negotiations?
Kyiv’s successes also revived speculation about a possible resumption of peace talks in the medium term, with some media even claiming that the West was pushing Ukraine to resume them.
Thus the senior US military official warned that a military victory might be impossible for both Kyiv and Moscow.
“There are more than 100,000 Russian soldiers dead and wounded,” General Mark Milley said in an interview with the New York Economic Club on Wednesday. “The same is probably on the Ukrainian side,” he added.
“There must be a mutual recognition that a military victory is unlikely, in the proper sense of the word, to be achieved by military means,” added General Milley, believing that there was an “opportunity for negotiation.”
Indicating a change of tone after a visit to Kyiv on Friday by US Presidential Adviser Jake Sullivan, President Zelensky on Monday listed his conditions for resuming talks with Moscow, including the withdrawal of his troops from Ukrainian territory.