Russia Orders Troops To Leave Kherson, But Zelensky’s Office Cautions Over “Staged” Retreat
In a huge development being hailed as a victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has announced a major withdrawal of his troops from Kherson.
“We will save the lives of our soldiers and fighting capacity of our units. Keeping them on the right (western) bank is futile [of the Dnieper River]. Some of them can be used on other fronts,” Surovikin said. This moment was somewhat expected, given pro-Kremlin officials have for weeks been overseeing a very public evacuation of civilians and the Russia-installed administration from the city.
The Washington Post and others are pointing out that this appears to be a “full withdrawal” from a strategic Black Sea city which Russia had controlled going back to March 2nd. “Russia’s defense minister said Wednesday that Russian troops were retreating east of the Dnieper River in what appeared to be a full withdrawal from the city of Kherson, the one regional capital Russia had captured since its February invasion,” WaPo reports. “The move is a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had declared the annexation of the Kherson region.”
Indeed Kherson’s strategic importance can’t be underestimated, given the oblast borders Crimea and has served as a Russian “land bridge” and key logistics channel throughout the invasion. The collapse of Russian lines across the southern region could deprive Moscow forces of this key land corridor while putting Crimea within direct reach of Ukrainian artillery and missiles.
Crimea’s main fresh water supply could also be put in peril, as it comes from this neighboring region.
Both sides now appear to be scrambling to bolster manpower in the region, with Ukraine’s military vowing to keep up the pressure after pounding the Russian-held city with artillery for weeks:
A senior adviser to Ukraine’s president said on Wednesday it was too early to talk about a Russian troop pullout from the southern city of Kherson.
“Until the Ukrainian flag is flying over Kherson, it makes no sense to talk about a Russian withdrawal,” Mykhailo Podolyak said in a statement to Reuters.
But some Ukrainian officials and national media reporters are already hailing it as an “absolute Ukrainian triumph.” At the same time, the “difficult decision” on Kherson was broadcast over Russian state media in a top level defense ministry meeting…
Moment Surovikin and Shoygu admit defeat in the Kherson direction and announce the withdrawal of troops. pic.twitter.com/10UZgVuIcm
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) November 9, 2022
The Russian side has of late suffered a string of major morale blows, with the latest being Wednesday’s separate announcement of the death of the Russian-installed top administrative official over Ukraine’s Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov.
Russian state media confirmed earlier in the day he was killed in a car crash. As CNN details, based on local sources, “Stremousov was killed in an accident on the highway between Kherson and Armyansk in Crimea, the Russian state media company Vesti (VGTRK) reported, citing the region’s health minister.” He was 45 years old.
General Surovikin in the Wednesday televised briefing also said that Ukrainian missile strikes on the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric plant and dam could cause catastrophe for area civilians, per state media:
“There will be an additional threat to the civilian population and a complete isolation of the group of our troops on the right bank of the Dnepr. Under these conditions, the most rational option is to establish defense along the barrier line of the Dnepr River,” he said, adding that the intensive discharge of water through the dam of the Kiev hydroelectric power plant and hydroelectric power plant downstream, which Ukraine has been carrying out since October 10, was also a cause for concern about the possible flooding of both banks of the Dnepr River.
Some 40,000 Russian troops are now urgently relocating to the opposite side of the Dnieper River…
This is being hailed in Ukraine and the West as the single biggest loss for Russia since the over eight-month long war began.
However, a statement from the Ukrainian presidency’s office suggests the fighting is still raging, and that this could be a “staged” retreat meant to soften Ukrainian resolve at a decisive moment…
Actions speak louder than words. We see no signs that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight. A part of the ru-group is preserved in the city, and additional reserves are charged to the region. 🇺🇦 is liberating territories based on intelligence data, not staged TV statements.
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) November 9, 2022
The fresh statement from a top Zelensky advisor indicates frontline fighting is still fierce. Indeed some pundits are asking: why would the Russian defense ministry issue such a public, somewhat humiliating statement announcing such a significant retreat of forces on television in the way that it did?
The fresh Ukrainian statement from the presidency’s office strongly suggests Kyiv is still very much wary of a trap.
Question: Why have the Russians decided to publish this? https://t.co/vSTsSiWDli
— Erik Fossing Nielsen 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@ErikFossing) November 9, 2022