Russia’s Kherson Withdrawal Was Planned For Weeks – Why?: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday that Russia is looking to withdraw forces from more parts of Kherson Oblast, warning that the move should not be considered a gesture of goodwill from the Russians.
“We have known their habit of ‘goodwill gestures’ for a long time,” Reznikov said. “It was a gesture of goodwill when they left Kyiv Oblast, then Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts, thanks to the decisive actions of the security and defence forces. Later, there was Zmiinyu Island, another goodwill gesture.”
Reznikov said that Russia plans to withdraw soldiers from the left bank of the Dnieper River in Kherson Oblast and parts of Kherson City.
While Reznikov also expressed optimism about Ukraine’s ability to recapture Kherson and all other occupied regions of Ukraine, Russia’s withdrawal – which appears to have been planned for several weeks – could be a tactical move ahead of a new Russian offensive.
Kherson Move Weeks In the Making
In late October, Kremlin-installed authorities in Kherson began encouraging Kherson residents to evacuate the area. In a series of messages sent to local residents, Russian authorities advised that a Ukrainian offensive was expected in the city of Kherson and that residents should leave. As many as 60,000 local people were encouraged to go, and reports soon followed that Russia warned of an imminent Ukrainian attack on the nearby Kakhovka dam.
By October 27, more than 70,000 residents had left the city, according to Kremlin-appointed Kherson Oblast governor Vladimir Saldo.
Ukraine’s Operational Command South claims that Russian authorities have resorted to forcefully evicting residents from both Kherson city and Kherson Oblast, and that local people near the city were given two days to pack up their belongings and leave.
What Is Russia Planning?
Halyna Luhova, the head of the Kherson City Military Administration, claimed in late October that there appeared to be more Russian troops on the streets of Kherson.
“I had to admit some people have left the city since the Russians announced so-called “evacuation” from temporarily occupied Kherson city and the region. Under the guise of the evacuation, many Russian soldiers changed into civilian clothes and also fled Kherson,” Luhova said.
This week, Kirill Stremousov, the Kremlin-backed deputy civilian administrator for Kherson Oblast, said that Russian troops were now attempting to regroup on the other side of the river after first withdrawing from the west bank of the Dnieper River.
Speaking to Solovyov Live, Stremousov said that soldiers will most likely “leave for the left bank,” referring to the east bank of the river. Temporarily bolstering forces in the region to allow for this withdrawal prompted U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to predict new Ukrainian advances in a press conference.
“On the issue of whether or not the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnieper river in Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that,” Austin said. “Most importantly, the Ukrainians believe they have the capability to do that. We have seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to take back their sovereign territory.”
The withdrawal appears to have begun, too, with photographs shared on social media showing Russian flags removed from administrative buildings. Ukrainian officials warned, however, that the unverified photographs could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign, leaving Ukrainian forces at risk of a surprise attack should they make advances into the previously occupied territory.
But with 40,000 Russian troops still on the west bank of the Dnieper River, and the best-trained troops still in position according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Russia may be trying to trick Ukrainian forces into re-entering Kherson. What those remaining Russian troops may be planning if that were to happen remains to be seen, and it’s unclear whether Ukrainian forces plan on regaining the territory immediately or waiting to see if all Russian troops fully leave the region in the coming days and weeks.
According to Kateryna Stepanenko of the Institute for the Study of War, the “commotion and movement” going on in Kherson is not “decisive,” and it doesn’t appear as though the Russians have completely given up on Kherson city.
Stepanenko also said that while there have been some movements of Russian military personnel across the river, Russia maintains some defensive positions in the northwestern regions of the city.
“A removal of a flag is not an indicator that Russians are withdrawing from the city at this moment,” she continued.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.