Russian troops withdraw from Kherson.
Anastasia Mamonova, Chiara Schlenz and Sven Ziegler
The order on Russian state television is brief — but it packs a punch: On Wednesday evening, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that President Vladimir Putin’s troops, 70, were withdrawing from Kherson. The strategically important city in southern Ukraine has become the focus of hostilities in recent weeks.
Russian troops therefore want to withdraw to the left bank of the Dnieper River. “The decision to defend the left bank of the Dnieper is not easy, but we will save the lives of our soldiers and the combat effectiveness of the troop group,” General Sergei Surovikin (56) told Russian state agencies. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 67, approved the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the right bank of the Dnieper River, the video shows.
Mysterious: The deputy head of Kherson died only on Wednesday afternoon – according to official information, in a traffic accident. The car of Kirill Stremusov († 45) was involved in the accident, said acting governor Vladimir Saldo, who was appointed by Moscow. Whether the death was really an accident or has something to do with the withdrawal of troops from Kherson is completely unclear.
Russia cannibalized the victory
With the withdrawal, Russia loses control in the south of the only Ukrainian regional capital it has captured since the war of aggression began in late February. For the Kremlin, the loss of Kherson is a brutal defeat. In addition, the Kherson region represented the last important section of the “land bridge” from the Russian mainland to Crimea, which Putin has been pursuing since the illegal annexation of the peninsula in 2014, according to the “Washington Post”.
ETH security analyst Niklas Masuhr (29) on Blick: “Kherson is important because the relevant owner can make offensives impossible – if the Ukrainians hold Kherson, Russian offensives in the south-west of Ukraine are impossible, and vice versa, the Ukrainians cannot advance from Kherson to the south.”
Russia largely occupied the Kherson region in the first weeks of the war, and in early March Russian troops marched into Kherson. Russia quickly gained control and also used the victory in state propaganda. Andrei Turchak, General Secretary of the General Council of Putin’s United Russia party, said on May 6 that “Kherson belongs to Russia forever”. The city was eventually annexed in September along with the regions of Zaporizhia, Luhansk and Donetsk in violation of international law.
Crimea does not necessarily fall
Regardless, Ukraine has repeatedly announced that it intends to liberate the city and region of Kherson using Western weapons. Ukraine launched a counter-offensive in August, and fierce fighting broke out again and again around the city. Ukrainians have repeatedly reported great destruction and high losses on the Russian side. This often could not be independently verified. Most recently, however, Russian military bloggers counted on the early withdrawal of their own units from the city of Kherson.
In early November, the pro-Russian government in Kherson ordered the evacuation of part of the civilian population for the first time. About 100,000 people were taken to the other side of the river, commander-in-chief Sergei Surovikin, 56, Putin’s handpicked, said at the time. Kyiv condemned the move as “deportation”.
The city of Kherson, captured in the first days of the military offensive in Ukraine, was the most important conquest of Russia. The region of the same name is of great strategic importance because it is adjacent to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
However, the capture of Kherson does not automatically mean that Crimea will fall. “Until then, the Ukrainians would first have to fight their way through the defensive lines east of the Dnieper,” says ETH expert Mahsur. And that’s exactly what Putin’s troops want to prevent.