LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered his troops to withdraw from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson and take up defensive lines on the opposite bank of the Dnipro.
The announcement marked one of Russia’s most significant retreats and a potential turning point in the war, which is now approaching the end of its ninth month.
In television comments, General Sergei Surovikin, the general commander of the war, reported in Shoigu that it was no longer possible to supply the city of Kherson.
“After a full assessment of the current situation, it is proposed to take up defense along the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro river,” Surovikin said, standing at a lectern and pointing to troop positions on a map whose details were grayed out for the TV audience.
“I understand that this is a very difficult decision, but at the same time we will preserve the most important thing – the lives of our servicemen and, in general, the combat effectiveness of the group of troops, that it is in vain to preserve the right bank in a limited area.
The news follows weeks of Ukrainian advances towards the city and a race by Russia to displace more than 100,000 of its residents by transporting them across the river.
Kherson is the main city in the region of the same name – one of four Ukrainian regions that President Vladimir Putin declared in September to be “forever” part of Russia, and which the Kremlin said was now placed under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella.
Shoigu told Surovikin: “I agree with your conclusions and your proposals. For us, the life and health of the Russian servicemen are always a priority. We must also take into account the threats to the civilian population.
“Proceed with the withdrawal of troops and take all measures to ensure the safe transfer of personnel, weapons and equipment across the Dnipro River.”
The announcement had been anticipated by influential Russian war bloggers, who described it as a blow.
“Apparently we’ll leave town no matter how painful it is to write about it now,” said the War Gonzo blog, which has more than 1.3 million followers on Telegram.
“Simply put, Kherson cannot be held with bare hands,” he said. “Yes, this is a black page in the history of the Russian army. Of the Russian state. A tragic page.”
Adding to the sense of Russian dismay in Kherson, Moscow’s number two Kirill Stremousov was killed in a car accident on Wednesday.
Stremousov was one of the most important faces of the Russian occupation. Ukraine considered him a collaborator and a traitor.
In a video statement just hours before his death, Stremousov denounced what he called Ukrainian “Nazis” and said the Russian military had “full” control of the situation in the south.
Reuters reporting; Written by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Jon Boyle and Jonathan Oatis
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