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MOSCOW – The Russian military on Thursday announced the start of the withdrawal of troops from Kherson, a strategic port city in southern Ukraine occupied by Moscow since February.

What does this mean for Russian military operations?

why now?

As he made the announcement on Wednesday, Russian commander in Ukraine Sergei Slovikin offered the withdrawal as a way to save thousands of Russian soldiers.

Since August, Ukrainian forces have launched a large-scale counteroffensive in southern Ukraine and retaken territory.

Kyiv has been destroying Russian ammunition depots and supply lines for weeks using precision long-range artillery, including Himars launchers delivered from the West.

Targeted assassinations of pro-Russian officials have also increased in the region.

Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valery Zaruzhny told the messaging app Telegram: “We are continuing our offensive according to plan.

However, the Ukrainian military said it could neither confirm nor deny a Russian withdrawal so far.

Last month, Moscow ordered the evacuation of civilians and occupying forces from Kherson to the left bank of the Dnipro.

Military experts do not believe Russia’s withdrawal announcement is a ruse.

“The Battle of Kherson is not essentially over,” said the War Research Institute, a US-based think tank.

“However, the Russian army has entered a new phase, prioritizing the orderly withdrawal of troops across the river and delaying the Ukrainian army rather than trying to completely stop the Ukrainian counter-attack. ”

What do you mean?

The withdrawal is a major setback for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who declared that Russia had annexed Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions following what was called a “referendum” rejected by the international community.

Putin allied with the leaders of the annexed territories set up in Moscow, announcing at the Kremlin in September that the land had joined Russia “forever.”

Without Kherson, it would be difficult for Moscow to advance its offensive towards the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv and the port of Odessa on the Black Sea.

Additionally, Russia could lose control of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, which supplies water to Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

From Kherson, Ukrainian forces could also attack Crimea with long-range artillery.

The withdrawal was announced after Russian forces were forced to withdraw from an area northeast of Kharkov in September, and could further affect the morale of an army that already relies on hundreds of thousands of combat-inexperienced reservists. There is

reaction in Russia

On Thursday, Russia’s state-run TV channel provided minimal coverage of the withdrawal in an effort not to dwell on the embarrassing development.

Compared to previous setbacks, pro-Kremlin hardliners approved the withdrawal.

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and Evgeny Prigozhin, founder of the secretive private military group Wagner, both welcomed the move.

“Slovikin acted like a true combat general who was not afraid of criticism,” said Kadyrov, who has previously criticized the Russian military.

“He’s in charge of people. He knows best,” he wrote on Telegram.

Known for his ruthless reputation, Slovikin was appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine in October with the aim of turning the tide after a string of battlefield defeats.

what’s next?

Withdrawal from Kherson would allow Russian forces to entrench themselves behind the natural barriers of the Dnipro River, but would make it more difficult to pursue an attack in the area.

Moscow, which has suffered heavy losses, wants to acquire breathing space so that it can equip and train soldiers mobilized since September.

Military experts have not ruled out new attacks for the New Year.

US officials have also raised the possibility of resuming peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow, which have stalled since late March.AFP Russian withdrawal from Kherson: what’s next?

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