An official installed by Moscow in the Kherson region suggested that Russian forces might withdraw from the western bank of the Dnieper, but when the United States made an optimistic note about Ukraine’s ability to retake the strategically important southern city of Kherson, it was Kyiv. More cautious.
“It is likely that our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (East) Bank,” Kirill Strimosov, Russia’s deputy civilian director of the Kherson region, said in an interview on Thursday with Solovyov Live, a pro-Kremlin online. The media.
The region includes Kherson, the capital of the region of the same name, and the only major Ukrainian city that has been captured intact since Russia invaded the country eight months ago. It also includes one side of the dam across the Dnieper River, which controls the water supply to irrigate Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia captured and later annexed in 2014.
Previously, Russia denied that its forces were planning to withdraw from the region, with any retreat representing a major defeat for its forces.
There was no news on Thursday from top Kremlin officials, as pictures circulated on social media of key buildings no longer flying Russian flags.
Natalia Homenyuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command, said talk of the withdrawal might be a Russian trap and that the photos – shared on pro-Kremlin accounts on Telegram – were misinformation.
“This may be an expression of a certain provocation in order to create the impression that the settlements are deserted, and that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street battles,” she said in televised statements.
Russia has been fighting for months to hold onto the pocket of land it controls on the West Bank at the mouth of the Dnieper River that divides Ukraine.
Ukraine has been advancing since the beginning of October, attacking the main bridges across the river and making it difficult for Russia to continue supplying its forces 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 preparing to leave, but he did express confidence in Ukraine’s ability to hold them back.
On the question of whether the Ukrainians could seize the remaining lands on the western side of the Dnipro [Dnieper] In Kherson River and in Kherson, I definitely think they have the ability to do that, Austin said.
Most importantly, Ukrainians believe they have the ability to do so. We have seen them engage in a very systematic but effective effort to reclaim their sovereign territory.”
A Western official, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, estimated that Russia was planning to retreat east of the river so that it could better defend its forces.
“We believe this planning is almost certainly well advanced,” the official said, adding that some Russian leaders had already been re-established.
“We’ll set it up in Kherson,” said the Western official, “most of the commanding levels will probably now have withdrawn across the river to the east, leaving great morale and often in some cases without leadership to face the Ukrainians on the other side.”
However, Ukrainian forces on the front line are 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 consolidating their positions.
Michael Kaufman, director of Russian studies at the Naval Analytics Center in Washington, D.C., who recently returned from areas close to the Kherson Front, said on Twitter that Moscow’s intentions are unclear and the fight in Kherson is “difficult.”
He doubted that Russia would give up the west bank of the river “without pressing it by force”, but he also “might be wrong about this.”
“The situation in Kherson is as clear as mud,” Kaufman wrote.
With the war increasingly focused on Kherson, Kyiv condemned what it said was a “mass forced transfer” of its own citizens living in areas occupied by Russia.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday: “The Russian occupation administration has begun a mass forcible transfer of the residents of the left bank of the Kherson region … to the temporarily occupied Crimea or to Russia.”
Russia is also carrying out similar deportations in the regions of Zaporizhia, Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as in the Crimea. ”
Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-installed governor of Kherson, said he was moving people into the region or into Russia because of the risks of a “massive missile attack.” The authorities installed by Moscow there last week said that 70,000 civilians had left their homes on the right bank of the Dnieper River.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of committing war crimes during the eight-month-old war, charges Moscow rejects. Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians, although the conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities and towns.
The removal of the flag is the first indication that the Russian army may be preparing to abandon Kherson, the only regional capital Moscow captured in its eight-month invasion. https://t.co/rStKjiOVLC
– Moscow Times (@MoscowTimes) November 3, 2022
Recent attacks on Ukraine’s energy and water supplies have hit civilians hard as winter approaches, a time when temperatures can dip below zero Celsius.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address that about 4.5 million Ukrainians in the capital, Kyiv, and ten other regions were left without electricity in the latest blackouts caused by Russian attacks.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in southern Ukraine, the largest in Europe, was also disconnected from the power grid after bombing damaged remaining high-voltage lines, leaving the facility running only on diesel generators.
The fact that Russia is resorting to energy terrorism shows the weakness of our enemy. “They cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, so they are trying to destroy our people in this way,” Zelensky said.
Russian strikes last month destroyed about a third of Ukraine’s power plants and the government urged Ukrainians to save electricity as much as possible.
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