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Russia may be about to withdraw troops from occupied Kherson

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A damaged military vehicle is seen after the withdrawal of Russian forces in Balakliia, Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast, on September 13, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Pictures

As Russian authorities continue to mass evacuate civilians from occupied Kherson in southern Ukraine, defense analysts believe the human movement is laying the groundwork for Moscow to withdraw its troops from a significant portion of the region.

In the next few days, up to 60,000 civilians are expected to be evacuated in the western part of the Kherson region, on the right bank of the Dnipro River, to the east bank of the river. – occupied territories.

Residents were told to leave Kherson after Russian-based officials warned them that Ukraine was preparing to launch a large-scale offensive. Ukraine has condemned evictions, likening evictions to deportations and telling residents not to comply.

The region’s acting governor, appointed by Russia, Vladimir Saldo, claimed that the evacuation was necessary because Ukraine was “gathering forces for a large-scale offensive” and that Russia wanted to protect its citizens. Meanwhile, his deputy Kirill Stremousov said late Tuesday on Telegram that “in the very near future, the war for Kherson will begin.”

“We cannot ignore the fact that both Kherson and the right (west) bank of the Kherson region (Dnipro River) will be bombarded,” Stremousov said on Wednesday. said. He claimed on Thursday that Russian forces had repelled four attempts by Ukrainian troops to “break through the Kherson direction”.

Ukraine, on the other hand, objected to the preamble of the evacuations, saying that Russia was trying to intimidate civilians and using the evacuation as “propaganda”.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense declined to comment further on the situation in Kherson to CNBC, but as a sign that the military situation in Ukraine is extremely fragile.

It seems that this is the case for both parties.

General Sergey Surovikin, the newly appointed commander of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine, described Russia’s “special military operation” (in his own words, the invasion) in Ukraine as “tense” and that “further actions and plans regarding the city of Kherson will depend.” he also added. It’s about the developing military-tactical situation, which is not easy.”

Even more mysteriously, he added, “We will act deliberately, in a timely manner, without ruling out difficult decisions,” but declined to provide further details.

Setting the scene for the retreat

Given the vulnerable comments from Russian officials, analysts believe Russia is now setting the stage for an imminent withdrawal from parts of the entire Kherson region.

“Russian authorities are likely setting information terms to justify planned Russian withdrawals and significant territorial losses in Kherson,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank said on Wednesday.

He said that recent statements by Russian officials are “attempts to set information conditions for a full Russian withdrawal along the Dnipro River, which would likely leave Kherson City and other important lands in the Kherson Oblast.” [province] To advance Ukrainian troops.”

Another retreat for Russia means more humiliation for Moscow; Prior withdrawals of Russian forces from Kiev, Snake Island, or Kharkiv – or “tactical retreats” as Russia defines them – even the most pro-Kremlin figures in Russia criticized the country’s military officials and strategy.

The latest humiliation for Moscow came in the summer when Ukraine signaled that it would launch a counterattack in the south, prompting Russia to redeploy forces there, only allowing it to recapture the country by launching a massive surprise counterattack in the northeast. a piece of land.

The building of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seen behind a social billboard that reads “Victory Forged in Fire” and the letters Z, a tactical emblem of Russian troops in Ukraine, in central Moscow, October 13, 2022.

Alexander Nemenov | AP | Getty Pictures

“Russian military leaders clearly learned from previous knowledge and operational failures during the recent Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkov. [in northeastern Ukraine] and therefore they are trying to mitigate the informational and operational consequences of failing to defend against another successful Ukrainian advance.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged and said in its latest intelligence update on Thursday that Russia is considering withdrawing troops from parts of Kherson.

The ministry noted that General Surovikin’s comments and his approval of plans to evacuate residents “probably indicate that the Russian authorities are seriously considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnipro river.” a maneuver can be difficult.

“The main challenge of any Russian retreat operation will be to properly remove troops and equipment from the 1,000-metre-wide river.”

“While all permanent bridges have been severely damaged, Russia will rely heavily on a temporary barge bridge it has recently completed near Kherson and military pontoon ferry units that continue to operate at various locations,” the ministry said. Said.

False flag attack

The Russian defense ministry claimed that the Ukrainian armed forces were “trying to break through the defense of the Russian troops” by “entering the defense” of Russian troops near Sukhanovo in the Kherson region. He insisted that the Russian troops “completely” restored the all-direction defensive front.

There are now concerns that Russia is planning to shut down the retreat with a false flag attack from the city of Kherson to the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station upriver, and the ISW think tank says, “The Russian military may believe that breaching the dam could eliminate the danger of their withdrawal from the right bank of the Dnieper River. and hinder or delay Ukraine’s advance along the river.”

Russia claimed to have “information” that Kiev intended to hit the dam at Kakhovka HEPP, but provided no evidence, while Ukraine said it would cause multiple disasters if Russian forces blew up the plant. from casualties.

“The Russian authorities are probably using these warnings of a Ukrainian attack on the Kakhovka HEPP to cover their own retreat from the resulting flooding, while they intend to set information conditions for Russian forces to damage the dam and blame Ukraine for the subsequent damage and loss of life. . further south to Kherson Oblast.”

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