By Adam Morrow
Russia has begun withdrawing its forces from Ukraine’s Kherson region, on the southern bank of the Dnieper River, Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed on Nov. 10.
The decision was based on an assessment by Gen. Sergey Surovikin, appointed by Moscow last month to be the top commander of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24.
Russian forces will fall back across the river, while taking “all measures to ensure the safe relocation of personnel, armaments, and hardware,” according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, confirmed on Nov. 9 that Russian forces appeared to be leaving the area, “but not as much as would be taking place if it was a full pullout or regrouping.”
He asserted that departing Russian forces were destroying bridges and mining roads in the vicinity of Kherson.
“For the moment, we don’t know their intentions,” Arestovych said. “Will they engage in fighting with us and will they try to hold the city?
“They are moving very slowly.”
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested it would take Russian forces “days, perhaps even weeks, to pull those forces south of that river.”
Milley estimated Russia’s total current troop strength north and west of the Dnieper at 20,000 to 30,000 men.
Surovikin: ‘Expedient’ Fallback
In an address to Russia’s top military brass on Nov. 9, Surovikin said the withdrawal was aimed at preserving the lives of Russian military personnel and keeping their combat capability intact.
The move, he added, would also allow Russian troops currently deployed in the area to be relocated to other critical areas of the roughly 680-mile (1,100-kilometer) front line.
Surovikin also raised concerns that Ukrainian artillery could strike Kherson’s Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, which could potentially lead to the “flooding of vast areas, causing civilian casualties.”
Such a scenario, the general added, threatened to leave Russian forces stranded on the west bank of the river and vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery.
“Under these conditions,” he said, “it is expedient to organize the defense along the barrier frontier of the Dnieper.”
On Sept. 30, the Kherson region—along with the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia—was incorporated into the Russian Federation after referendums were held in all four territories.
Of the four, Kherson is considered the most strategically important as it commands the only land route to the Crimean Peninsula, along with the mouth of the Dnieper River.
Most of Kherson, including its regional capital, was captured by Russian forces in the opening weeks of the conflict.
In recent weeks, Russian military authorities have overseen the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians from Kherson city in anticipation of a looming Ukrainian offensive. More than 115,000 people so far have left the city for safer positions, Surovikin said.
Previous attempts by Ukrainian forces to breach Russian defenses near Kherson have encountered stiff resistance, leading to significant Ukrainian losses in terms of both troops and equipment, Russian officials say.
In his address, Surovikin claimed that repeated Ukrainian offensives in the Kherson region had resulted in more than 9,500 Ukrainian casualties in the period between August and October.
The Epoch Times was unable to verify the claims.
Biden: ‘Interesting’ Timing
Responding to news of the Russian withdrawal, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters on Nov. 9 that the move suggests that the Russian military is facing “some real problems.”
Biden also said it was “interesting” that Moscow had “waited” until after the U.S. midterm elections to announce its withdrawal plans.
Following the Nov. 8 U.S. midterm elections, Republicans are edging closer to securing a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, while control of the U.S. Senate hinges on a few close races.
In the months leading up to the elections, there has been widespread speculation that U.S. financial and military support for Ukraine could face drastic reductions in the event of a Republican electoral victory.
On Nov. 4, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan visited Kyiv, where he pledged that American support for the Ukrainian war effort would remain “unwavering and unflinching” following the midterm polls.
Reuters contributed to this report.