Ukraine announced on Thursday that it had recaptured a dozen villages in the Kherson region in the country’s south, where Moscow confirmed it had begun to withdraw, a major new setback for Vladimir Putin’s army.
“It is not the enemy that is leaving, it is the Ukrainians who pay the price and chase the aggressor,” underlined President Volodymyr Zelensky in the evening, taking the opposite view of the Russian military. Positions. “It was achieved through courage, pain and loss,” the Ukrainian president added.
At midday, Valery Salushny, the chief of staff of the Ukrainian army, announced on Wednesday that his forces had advanced 7 km, recaptured six areas in the Petropavlivka-Novorask direction and “recaptured six areas in the direction. Pervomaiske-Kherson”.
Volodymyr Zelensky said a total of “41 villages” have now been recaptured in the region, where the Ukrainian counteroffensive began in October.
The Russian army has announced that it has begun its withdrawal by moving its troops from the right (west) bank, where the city of Kherson is located, to the left bank of the Dnieper River, a natural barrier that is theoretically easier to defend.
“Units of the Russian troop group are maneuvering towards positions set up on the left bank of the Dnieper River,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
General Churovykin, who is in charge of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, announced on Wednesday that the withdrawal would be “very quickly”, without giving a timetable.
On the Ukrainian side, this notification was received without success and suspected a trap. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded with “extreme caution” on Wednesday.
Appease the Kremlin
At this stage, the representative of the Ukrainian General Staff, General Oleksiy Khromov, noted that “the information about the alleged withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson cannot be confirmed or denied”, however, with their backs to the Dnieper, the Russians underlined it. Faced with the Ukrainian push, he had “no choice but to flee”.
In Mykolaiv, a large southern city about a hundred kilometers northwest of Kherson, residents are skeptical of the Kremlin’s intentions.
Satellite images in recent days have shown the Russians digging trenches on the left bank of the Dnieper on the other side of the river.
These positions may allow the Russians to be much better positioned to target Ukrainian troops entering Kherson.
For 59-year-old mechanic Igor Kosorodo, “The Russians will simply destroy the city, and then that’s it.” “They will make it run down the river”.
For its part, the Kremlin had no comment, and its spokesman’s daily briefing was canceled on Thursday.
US President Joe Biden, for his part, considered the withdrawal announcement “proof that (the Russians) have real problems”.
A Russian withdrawal to Q would “be a new victory”, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed from Rome.
The withdrawal from Kherson, if confirmed, poses a new serious setback for Moscow, which was already forced to abandon the Kharkiv region (northeast) in September.
In particular, Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of some 300,000 reservists to consolidate Russian borders on September 21, saying he would annex four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson, by the end of September.
The Russian president had warned that Russia would defend its territory by “all means” now considered.
Since the summer, the Ukrainian army, strong in Western weapons, has gradually decimated Russian forces, particularly by attacking bridges, essential for supplying troops on the west bank of the Dnieper.
A window for negotiation?
In the Donbass, Russia has been trying for weeks to capture the town of Bagmouth, which had 70,000 residents before the invasion.
“It has become more complicated in the last three days,” Vitaly, a 26-year-old Ukrainian soldier, told AFP. “Our men are holding their positions and the Russians are pushing further,” he says from Buckmouth.
Kyiv’s victories have revived speculation about the resumption of peace talks, with some media outlets suggesting Western countries are pushing Ukraine to resume them.
“More than 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and wounded,” the top US military official, General Mark Milley, told the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday. “The same thing may be on the Ukrainian side,” he added.
There must be a mutual recognition that “military victory, in the proper sense of the word, is unlikely to be achieved by military means,” said General Milley, who believed there was “a window of opportunity for negotiation.”
But Volodymyr Zelensky this week recalled his conditions for this, the first of which was the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. And the US, which doesn’t appear to be weakening its military support for Kyiv, announced a $400 million package on Thursday, including “additional anti-aircraft defense capabilities.”
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