VLADIMIR Putin’s troops have withdrawn from a key Ukrainian city in a move dubbed a “black page for Russia” by pro-Kremlin sources.
Russian forces have reportedly been forced out of the southern city of Kherson, gateway to Crimea and the largest city of one of the four Ukrainian territories annexed in September.
Putin’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered his troops out of the city and across the Dnipro River to take up defensive lines.
Russian top brass were filmed on state TV discussing the withdrawal.
In a meeting of senior military officials, General Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s commander in Ukraine, said it was no longer possible to continue supplying the city.
He said: “In these circumstances, the most sensible option is to organise the defence along a barrier line along the river Dnipro.”
Vladimir Putin was not at the event. Instead, he was filmed by state TV speaking to a health chief.
The news follows weeks of Ukrainian advances towards the city, seen as the gateway to Crimea, and a race by Russia to “relocate” tens of thousands of its residents.
Surovikin, who earned the nickname “General Armageddon” due to his brutality in Syria, said that more than 115,000 people have crossed the Dnipro River in recent weeks.
Kherson was the only regional capital conquered by the Russians since the start of the war more than eight months ago.
Ilia Ponomarenko, a defence reporter at the Kyiv Post, said earlier on Wednesday that the retreating Russian army were “blowing up all bridges in Kherson Oblast” and removing their flags from the city.
It marks one of Russia’s most significant retreats since the start of the war and a potential turning point in the conflict that has raged since late February.
Kherson was one of four Ukrainian territories, along with Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia, which were annexed by Russia following sham referendums in September.
At the time, Russia claimed that the new territories would remain Russian “forever”.
This is a black page in the history of the Russian army
A pro-Kremlin blogger wrote on the messaging app Telegram: “Apparently we will leave the city, no matter how painful it is to write about it now.
“In simple terms, Kherson can’t be held with bare hands.
“Yes, this is a black page in the history of the Russian army. Of the Russian state. A tragic page.”
It comes after the Putin-installed puppet leader in Kherson was killed hours, following his warning to Russians to leave the city.
Former YouTuber Kirill Stremousov – reviled for a sick stunt swinging a baby round his head – had urged civilians to flee their homes while pumping out twisted pro-regime propaganda.
He was reportedly killed in a car crash according to Vladimir Saldo, Kherson’s Russia-appointed governor.
Stremousov, 45, was appointed just two months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He was wanted for treason by the Ukrainian police.
In recent hours, the Kremlin appears to have opened the door for negotiations with Ukraine in the face of the withdrawal from Kherson.
“The Russian Federation is ready to negotiate with Ukraine, taking into account the realities that are developing at the moment,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
However, some insiders have urged caution, with adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky Mykhailo Podlyak warning that the Russian withdrawal from Kherson wasn’t complete.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said.
“We see no signs that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight… [Ukraine] is liberating territories based on intelligence data, not staged TV statements.”
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