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Russia is withdrawing from Ukraine's Kherson — but the retreat will be dangerous for both sides


Ukrainian Armed Forces continue moving toward the Kherson front in Ukraine on Nov. 9, 2022.

Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russia’s withdrawal from a large chunk of Kherson in southern Ukraine is likely to be fraught with danger for both sides in the war, according to analysts, who said the battle for the region “is not over.”

Russia said Thursday that its forces were starting to withdraw from the western bank of the Dnieper River that bisects the Kherson region, while Ukraine said its forces had already advanced four miles and liberated 12 settlements in the region since Wednesday — the day Russia’s top military officials announced they would pull Russian troops out of Kherson city and the surrounding area, and back to defensive positions on the other side of the river.

Ukraine’s government said it was skeptical of Russia’s withdrawal, although its forces on the ground appeared on Thursday to be exploiting the opportunity to target large groups of Russian troops preparing to withdraw. One Ukrainian official in Kherson stated that as Russian forces moved their equipment to the eastern bank of the river, “we destroy it.”

Damaged parts of Velyka Oleksandrivka town, in the Kherson region, on Oct. 24, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Analysts say the Kherson withdrawal is likely to throw up major challenges for both the Russians — as they pull back from the region — as well as for Ukrainian troops as they try to reoccupy Kherson city and the surrounding area.

“The battle of Kherson is not over, but Russian forces have entered a new phase — prioritizing withdrawing their forces across the river in good order and delaying Ukrainian forces, rather than seeking to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive entirely,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted Wednesday evening.

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The institute said the entire Russian contingent will take some time to withdraw across the Dnieper, and it’s unclear whether Russian forces will be able to conduct the withdrawal in relatively good order under Ukrainian pressure. 

Britain’s Ministry of Defense agreed that the withdrawal is likely to be fraught with difficulty, with Ukrainian forces that are trying to reoccupy and liberate the Russian-occupied part of Kherson also facing dangers in that endeavor.

“In retreating, Russian forces have destroyed multiple bridges and likely laid mines to slow and delay advancing Ukrainian forces,” the ministry said in an intelligence update Thursday on Twitter.

For Russia, the lack of passable bridges was likely to be a problem, it added: “With limited crossing points, Russian forces will be vulnerable in crossing the Dnipro River. It is likely that the withdrawal will take place over several days with defensive positions and artillery fires covering withdrawing forces.”

Fighting intensifies

There were already signs Thursday that fighting was intensifying in Kherson as Russian troops withdrew.

Serhiy Khlan, a member of the Kherson Regional Council, said on Facebook that a large buildup of Russian troops had been blown up in Kakhovka in Kherson.

Another Ukrainian official noted that Moscow hadn’t asked Ukraine to create a “green corridor,” or safe route, for Russia to withdraw its troops from Kherson safely.

Separately, Ukraine’s southern command unit said Thursday that its forces had attacked “two strongholds of the Russian occupiers, a column of enemy equipment and an ammunition depot” as enemy forces build up in the area.

“As a result of the attacks, the Ukrainian defenders eliminated 125 occupiers, three enemy tanks, five units of armored vehicles and an ammunition depot in the Berislav district,” it added. Berislav lies upriver from Kherson, on the same western bank of the river — the bank from which Russian forces are set to withdraw.

The southern command unit repeated claims that Russia was laying land mines and leaving road blocks, presumedly in a bid to obstruct Ukrainian forces looking to advance and reoccupy the area. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukraine’s president, said Russians wanted to “turn Kherson into a ‘city of death'” as they withdrew.

While efforts to reoccupy Kherson might be fraught with danger, analysts say Ukraine’s forces have executed a well-fought campaign to recapture Kherson from Russia.

“The Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson direction since August — a coordinated interdiction campaign to force Russian forces to withdraw across the Dnipro without necessitating major Ukrainian ground offensives—has likely succeeded,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said Wednesday.

A Ukrainian tank driver near the Kherson front in Ukraine on Nov. 9, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The institute said Ukraine’s forces had targeted Russian units, military assets and logistics throughout the region of Kherson “to make continued Russian positions on the west bank untenable without having to conduct large-scale and costly ground maneuvers to liberate territory.”

“Ukrainian troops launched constant attacks on bridges across the Dnipro River and targeted supply centers and ammunition depots on the east bank … that degraded the ability of Russian forces to supply the grouping on the west bank; Ukrainian forces combined these strikes with prudent and successful ground attacks on key locations such as Davydiv Brid. This campaign has come to fruition,” it said. 

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