Ukraine to brace for ‘more pain from the skies’
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Vladimir Putin has handed Ukrainian troops a “morale boost” as Russia pulls its forces from Kherson. Russian general Sergei Surovikin recommended the move in a televised briefing with defence secretary Sergei Shoigu. Allies have since hailed the move the “right decision”, but experts say it has humiliated Putin.
David Lewis, a professor of international relations and peace and conflict studies at the University of Exeter, said the withdrawal is a significant blow to the Kremlin.
He said the announcement would leave Russia embarrassed, and hand Ukrainian troops a morale boost as they pursue their southern offensive.
Professor Lewis said: “This is a major humiliation for Russia’s military and a significant boost for Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
“It’s the latest setback for Russia’s military campaign after a major defeat in Kharkiv province in September.”
“It is particularly humiliating because Putin claimed that it had formally annexed this territory only six weeks ago.
“But it was always likely to be difficult to defend Kherson once Ukraine was able to attack its supply lines across the Dnipro river.”
Professor Lewis added that the withdrawal emphasised the vulnerability of Russian troops but cautioned that it doesn’t signify the end of the invasion.
He continued: “The assassination of a pro-Russian official in Kherson yesterday only emphasised how vulnerable Russian forces were becoming to Ukrainian attacks.”
“But it does not mean that Russia is in full retreat.
“This is a tactical withdrawal to allow Russia to consolidate its positions on the left bank of the Dnipro and to ensure that it can hold its land bridge to Crimea against further Ukrainian offensives.
“But Russia’s retreat will boost Ukrainian morale ahead of a hard winter when they are likely to suffer continued energy shortages and Russian attacks on their infrastructure.
“It will also fuel growing criticism of Russia’s military campaign from hardliners at home.”
While some hardline supporters of the invasion effort may critcise military leaders, decision-makers have found high-profile support in Russia.
Several officials have leapt to General Surovkin’s defence, stating the withdrawal was necessary.
But even they conceded the decision was no positive step in the war effort.
Yvgeny Prigozhin, the head of Putin’s Wagner private military corporation, said it was vital not to “agonise” over today’s events.
He said: “Of course, this is not a victorious step in this war, but it is important not to agonise, not succumb to paranoia, but to draw conclusions and work on our mistakes.”
Ramzan Kadyrov, the hardline Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, came forward as an unlikely figure to offer his support.
He said the general made a “difficult but correct decision” due to Kherson’s “difficult combat territory”.
Kadyrov, who has provided unwavering support for the “special operation”, previously advocated for officials to use low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
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