Ukraine cautious as Russia admits Kherson humiliation
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for restraint following Russia’s announcement that it is removing its troops from Kherson, which potentially opens a gateway to Crimea.
The president used his nightly wartime address to warn that the “enemy does not bring us gifts” and said Russian troops could be concealed within the city.
On Wednesday, the Russian military commander in Ukraine said Russian forces had been told to withdraw from the key southern city as they could no longer be supplied in the city.
General Surovikin, the Russian commander, during a televised meeting told Moscow’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu, that the troops in Kherson were isolated from their supply lines by Ukrainian missile attacks and it would be “futile” to oppose the Ukrainian advance.
The Russian media also reported that the Kremlin-installed deputy leader of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, had been killed in a “car crash”. He had recently hinted at a Russian withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro river.
Vladimir Putin had said Russia would defend the four regions, including Kherson, which he declared as annexed in September with nuclear weapons, but he appears to have backtracked on those comments in recent weeks. There has been a general retreat from the Kremlin’s repeated nuclear threats.
Zelensky told the nation on Wednesday: “There is a lot of joy in the media space today, and it is clear why. But our emotions must be restrained, always during war.
“But you need to understand: no one just gets away if they don’t feel the strength. The enemy does not bring us gifts, does not make ‘gestures of goodwill’. We fight our way up.”
His comments echo warnings from Ukraine’s military intelligence that Russia could be hoping to lure Ukraine into an urban trap and that Russian soldiers in civilian clothes might hold positions in private homes.
General Kyrylo Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, has also said Russia is trying to create the illusion it is leaving Kherson.
Sergei Markov, an ex-Kremlin adviser turned academic, said the retreat was Russia’s “biggest geopolitical defeat” since the Soviet Union fell, adding that it would have domestic political consequences.
The Kherson announcement coincided with a shift in Russian rhetoric towards Ukraine. Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the Kremlin was ready for peace talks with Ukraine that would “take into account developing realities”.
Andrei Rudenko, a deputy foreign minister in Moscow, also said Moscow had no “preliminary conditions” for talks if Ukraine showed “goodwill”.
Kherson’s access to waterways is of key strategic importance. Picture credit: YouTube