Russia abandons cities in the south: withdrawal or a new Putin trap?

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The area includes the city of Kherson, capital of the region of the same name and the only major city Russia has captured and held since its invasion in February< /h2>

Russia abandons cities in the south: withdrawal or a new-Putin trap?

An armored truck of pro-Russian troops parked near the building of the former Ukrainian regional council in the city of Kherson, Ukraine (REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File)

A pro-Russian leader in southern Ukraine said that Moscow is likely to withdraw its soldiers from the west bank of the Dnieper river in Kherson, and urged the civilian population to withdraw, which could indicate a withdrawal that would be a setback for the Russian war.

Moscow officials remained silent. The kyiv government and Western military analysts remained cautious, suggesting that Russia could be setting a trap for Ukrainian soldiers.

“Most likely, let our units, our soldiers, leave for the left (eastern) bank,” Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-appointed deputy civil administrator of the Kherson region, said in an interview Thursday with Solovyov Live, a pro-Kremlin online media outlet.

The area includes the city of Kherson, capital of the region of the same name and the only major city Russia has captured and held since its invasion in February. It also includes one side of a dam across the Dnieper that controls the water supply to irrigate Crimea, the peninsula that Russia has occupied since 2014.

Previously, Russia had denied that its forces were planning to withdraw from the area.

Russia abandons cities in the south: retreat or a new Putin trap?

Civilians evacuating the area (REUTERS/Alexey Pavlishak)

In extensive comments on Thursday night in a program organized by RT televisionStremousov was somewhat more equivocal, saying: “We have to make some very difficult decisions now. Whatever our strategy. And some people may be afraid to acknowledge things.”

“But for me it's very important to try to say right now: “People, please go to the east bank. They will be in a much safer position,” Stremousov said.

At another point, Stremousov said he hopes “we don't leave Kherson” and that if that happens, “it will be a big shock not only in terms of the image of all of us, but a big shock for the people who could stay here.”

There was speculation that Russia might actually withdraw, after photos circulated on the Internet showing the main administrative building in the city of Kherson without the Russian flag on it. top. Ukraine said such images could be Russian disinformation.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesman for the military command of southern Ukraine, said it could be aRussian trap.

“This could be a manifestation of a particular provocation, with in order to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while preparing for street battles,” he said in televised comments.

Russia abandons cities in the south: withdrawal or a new Putin trap?

People line up to collect water in kyiv (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

More attacks, power outages

In the last 24 hours, the Russian army has launched three missile strikes and 16 air strikes against Ukrainian targets, as well as more than 40 bombardments, the Ukrainian army said in a statement Thursday night.

On the southern front, Russian fire hit more than 35 towns and more than 30 strike missions took place. reconnaissance with unmanned aircraft, according to the statement.

Ukrainian aviation carried out 12 attacks on eight occupied areasby Russia in which men and equipment were concentrated, reaching four anti-aircraft units, the military said. Ukrainian artillery also hit three areas with men and equipment and two ammunition depots, it said.

Reuters was unable to verify reports from the battlefield.< /p>

A statement from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry accused the Russian authorities of carrying out “massive forced movements of residents” in the southern provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhia, and in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, in the east, “to the territory of temporarily occupied Crimea or to the Russian Federation.”

Ukraine has accused the Russian army of war crimes during the eight months of war.

His attacks in recent weeks on Ukraine's power and water supply have hit civilians hard as winter approaches, according to the kyiv government. As of Thursday night, 4.5 million Ukrainians in the capital kyiv and 10 other regions were temporarily without power, in the latest blackouts caused by Russian strikes, President Volodimir Zelensky said in a video address.

Temperatures can drop well below freezing in the winter, now just a few weeks away.

Russia abandons cities-in the South: Withdrawal or a new Putin trap? /></p><p>Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense (REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)</p><h2 class=Counteroffensive

US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, said he believed Ukrainian forces could retake Kherson, in perhaps his most optimistic comments on the counteroffensive to date.

A senior Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some Russian military commanders had relocated across the river to the east.

“In Kherson, it is likely that most of the commanders have withdrawn to the other side of the river, leaving the soldiers quite demoralized and, in some cases, leaderless, to face the Ukrainians on the other side,” he said.

Russia has been fighting for months to keep the territory it holds on the west bank of the mouth of the Dnieper River, which divides Ukraine.

Ukraine has attacked the main passages of the river for months, making it difficult to supply the Russian army on the west bank. Ukrainian soldiers have been advancing along the river since early October, although their advance had slowed in recent days.

Ukrainian troops on the front line Visited by Reuters last week, they said they saw no signs the Russian army was withdrawing and believed it was, in fact, strengthening.

Michael Kofman, an American expert on the Russian military who just returned from the Ukrainian side of the Kherson front, said Moscow's intentions were unclear.

“The situation in Kherson is crystal clear,” tweeted Kofman, director of Russia studies at the Center for Naval Analysis.

(By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth – Reuters)

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