Russia may be about to withdraw from occupied Kherson

A damaged military vehicle is seen after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Balaklia, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, on September 9. January 13, 2022.

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As Russian authorities continue a massive evacuation of civilians from occupied Kherson in southern Ukraine, defense analysts believe the movement is setting the stage for Moscow to withdraw troops from much of the region.

As many as 60,000 civilians are expected to be evacuated from the western Kherson region on the right side of the Dnieper to the eastern bank of the river in the next few days, with residents being told to then travel to other parts of Russia – occupied areas.

Residents were told to leave Kherson after Russian-installed officials warned them Ukraine was preparing for a massive offensive. Ukraine condemned the evacuation, likening it to eviction, and told residents not to comply.

The region’s acting Russian-appointed governor, Vladimir Saldo, claimed the evacuation was necessary because Ukraine was “building up forces for a massive offensive” and Russia wanted to protect its citizens. Meanwhile, his deputy Kirill Stremousov said on Telegram on Tuesday night that “in the near future, the battle for Kherson will begin.”

“We cannot rule out shelling on the right (west) bank (Dnieper) of both Kherson and the Kherson region,” Stremusov said on Wednesday. On Thursday, he claimed that Russian forces repelled four attempts by Ukrainian forces to “break through in the direction of Kherson.”

For its part, Ukraine disputed the preamble to the withdrawal, saying Russia sought to intimidate civilians and used the withdrawal as “propaganda.”

However, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense declined to comment further to CNBC on the situation in Kherson, indicating that the military situation in Ukraine is highly sensitive.

This seems to be the case on both sides.

The newly appointed commander of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovkin, called Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine (as it called the invasion) “nervous,” adding that “further information on the city of Kherson” Operations and planning will depend on the evolving military tactical situation, which is not easy.”

More mysteriously, he added: “We will act consciously and in a timely manner without ruling out tough decisions,” without giving further details.

prepare for evacuation

Given the defenseless rhetoric of Russian officials, analysts believe that Russia is now bracing itself for an imminent troop withdrawal from much of the entire Kherson region.

“Russian authorities may be setting informational conditions to justify Russia’s planned retreat and significant territorial losses at Kherson,” analysts at the Institute for War Institute think tank said on Wednesday.

It said recent statements by Russian officials “may attempt to set informational conditions for a full Russian withdrawal from the Dnieper, which would cede the city of Kherson and other important territories in Kherson Oblast. [province] Advance the Ukrainian army. “

Another Russian withdrawal would mark a further humiliation for Moscow; previous withdrawals of Russian troops from Kyiv, Snake Island or Kharkiv outposts – or “tactical retreats” as Russia calls them – drew criticism from even Russia’s most pro-Kremlin figures Military officials and strategies of the country.

Moscow’s most recent humiliation came when Ukraine announced in the summer that it would launch a counteroffensive in the south, leading Russia to redeploy troops there, only to launch a massive and sudden counterattack in the country’s northeast, allowing it to retake a large swath of territory.

On October 13, 2022, the Russian Foreign Ministry building – the tactical emblem of the Russian army in Ukraine, with the words “Victory is Forged in Fire” – appears behind a social billboard displaying the letter Z in central Moscow.

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“Russian military leaders have apparently learned the lessons of previous information and operational failures from Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive in Kharkiv [in northeastern Ukraine] Therefore, they may be trying to mitigate the informational and operational consequences of failing to defend against another successful Ukrainian advance,” the analysts noted.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence agreed on Thursday, saying in its latest intelligence update that it believes Russia may be considering withdrawing troops from parts of Kherson.

The ministry noted that General Surowykin’s comments – coupled with his approval of plans to evacuate residents from the area – “may indicate that Russian authorities are seriously considering a large-scale withdrawal from the area west of the Dnieper”, although it noted that such a maneuver could It’s tricky.

“A key challenge to any Russian withdrawal is the orderly withdrawal of troops and their equipment over a 1,000-meter-wide river.”

“With all permanent bridges severely damaged, Russia is likely to rely heavily on the temporary barge bridges built near Kherson in recent days, as well as the military pontoon ferry force that continues to operate at multiple locations,” the ministry said.

false flag attack

Tensions centered on Kherson on Thursday, with the Russian Defense Ministry claiming that Ukrainian armed forces were “trying to break through the defenses of Russian troops” and “intervene” in the defenses of Russian forces near Sukhanovo in the Kherson region. It insisted that Russian troops had “completely” restored the line of defense in the entire direction.

There are now concerns that Russia plans to cover the retreat by launching a false flag attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station upstream of the city of Kherson, with the ISW think tank noting that “the Russian military may have believed that the destruction of the dam could cover their retreat from the right bank of the Dnieper, Prevent or delay Ukrainians from crossing the river.”

Russia claims to have “information” but provides no evidence that Kyiv intends to attack the dam at Kakhovka HPP, while Ukraine says that if Russian forces blow up the power plant, it will lead to massive disaster or leisure.

“Russian authorities may have intended to issue these warnings about the alleged Ukrainian attack on the Kakhovka HPP in order to destroy the dam for Russian forces and blame Ukraine for the subsequent damage and loss of life, while using the resulting flooding to cover their own retreat. Further south into the state of Kherson.”

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