Russia might be about to withdraw its troops from occupied Kherson

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

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

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

Up to 60,000 civilians are expected to be evacuated over the next few days from the western part of the Kherson region on the right bank of the Dnipro River to the river’s eastern bank, with residents being instructed to then travel to the other Russian-occupied territories .

Residents were told to leave Kherson after officials deployed by Russia warned them that Ukraine was preparing for a full-scale offensive. Ukraine has denounced the evacuations, likening them to deportations and telling residents not to comply.

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

“We cannot rule out that both Kherson and the right (western) bank (of the Dnipro River) of the Kherson region will come under fire,” Stremousov said on Wednesday. On Thursday, he claimed that Russian forces repelled four attempts by Ukrainian troops to “break through towards Kherson”.

For its part, Ukraine has denied this preamble to the evacuations, saying that Russia is trying to scare civilians and is using the evacuation as “propaganda”.

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However, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry declined to comment further on the situation in Kherson to CNBC, signaling that the military situation in Ukraine is very sensitive.

Apparently that goes for both sides.

General Sergey Surovikin, the newly appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, described Russia’s “military special operation” (as it calls its invasion) in Ukraine as “tense,” adding that “further actions and plans regarding the city Kherson will depend on the developing military-tactical situation, which is not easy.”

More enigmatically, he added: “We will act consciously and in a timely manner, without ruling out difficult decisions,” but refrained from giving further details.

Stage the retreat

Given the thoughtless comments by Russian officials, analysts believe Russia is now setting the stage for an impending withdrawal from part of the entire Kherson region.

“Russian authorities are likely to adjust 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.

It said recent statements by Russian officials were “likely attempts to establish information terms for a full Russian withdrawal across the Dnipro River, which would cede Kherson City and other significant areas in Kherson Oblast.” [province] advancing Ukrainian troops.”

Another Russian withdrawal would mean further humiliation for Moscow; Previous withdrawals of Russian forces from Kyiv, the Snake Island outpost, or Kharkiv — or “tactical withdrawals,” as Russia has dubbed them — have led even the most pro-Kremlin figures in Russia to take a critical view of the country’s military officials and strategy.

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The latest humiliation for Moscow came when Ukraine announced over the summer that it would launch a counteroffensive in the south, prompting Russia to redeploy its forces there, only to launch a massive surprise counterattack in the country’s northeast A strip of territory made it possible for him to recapture.

The building of Russia’s Foreign Ministry can be seen in central Moscow October 13, 2022 behind a social billboard with Z-letters – a tactical badge of Russian troops in Ukraine and the inscription ‘Victory is forged in fire’.

Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

“Russian military leaders evidently learned from previous informational and operational errors during the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv [in northeastern Ukraine] and are therefore likely to seek to mitigate the information and operational consequences of failing to defend against another successful Ukrainian advance,” the analysts noted.

Britain’s Defense Ministry agreed, saying in its latest intelligence report on Thursday it thought it likely Russia was considering withdrawing troops from part of Kherson.

The ministry noted that General Surovikin’s comments – plus his approval of plans to evacuate residents from the region – “probably indicate that the Russian authorities are seriously considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnieper River.” although it noted that a maneuver could be difficult.

“A key challenge of any Russian disengagement operation would be to get troops and their equipment across the 1,000-meter-wide river in good condition.”

“With all permanent bridges badly damaged, Russia would most likely rely heavily on a temporary barge bridge it completed near Kherson in recent days and military pontoon ferry units that continue to operate in multiple locations,” he said the Ministry.

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False flag attack

Tensions centered on Kherson on Thursday, when the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that Ukrainian forces had “attempted to breach the defenses of Russian troops” by moving “into the defenses” of Russian units near Sukhanovo in the Kherson region “trapped”. She insisted that Russian troops had “completely” restored the defensive front in the entire direction.

There are now concerns that Russia has plans to cover up a withdrawal with a false flag attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, upriver from the city of Kherson, with the ISW think tank noting that “the Russian military may believe a dam breach could cover.” withdrawing from the right bank of the Dnipro River and preventing or delaying Ukrainian advances across the river.

Russia has claimed to have “information” but no evidence that Kyiv intends to blow up the dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, while Ukraine said that if Russia’s forces blow up the power station it would result in a high-numbers disaster will result from sacrifices.

“Most likely, with these warnings of an alleged Ukrainian attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, the Russian authorities intend to set conditions of information for Russian forces to damage the dam and blame Ukraine for the subsequent damage and loss of life, while at the same time protecting the use resulting flooding to cover their own retreat further south into Kherson Oblast.”


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