The only regional capital that the Russian army has seized since it invaded Ukraine in late February is the Ukrainian city of Kherson, and Russia has ordered its forces to leave the city.
On Wednesday, state media in Russia claimed that Sergei Shoigu, the country’s minister of defence, had ordered his troops to leave the Dnieper River’s west bank and defend their eastern flank.
Ukrainian officials, who have previously cautioned that such declarations might be a trap amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the southern area, made no immediate comment.
If confirmed, the pullout would represent a significant military retreat for Russia’s military in the war, which is nearing the end of its ninth month.
Why is the Kherson region of Ukraine so important strategically?
Kherson, a region in southern Ukraine, borders Crimea and provides Moscow with a land connection to the peninsula in the Black Sea that it seized from Kyiv in 2014.
If Kyiv’s forces can reclaim large areas of territory in the region, Russia will lose access to that land corridor. Achieving such battlefield success would also enable Ukraine to deploy long-range artillery closer to Crimea, which Moscow regards as being vital to its interests.
If Ukraine retakes the partially held Kherson area, the Crimean peninsula’s fresh water supply would also be in danger.
Kyiv cut off the water supply via a canal from the Dnieper river after Moscow seized Crimea. Russia proceeded right away to open the canal after seizing parts of Kherson and the neighbouring Zaporizhia region to the east.
The local population, the irrigation of the peninsula’s dry land, and several military facilities all depend on Russia for their water needs.
Furthermore, Kyiv would be able to regain control of some of its coastline if it were to retake the Kherson region, which is on the Black Sea and had more than 1 million people living in it before the war. A major route for Ukrainian food exports to foreign markets is the Black Sea.
According to a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, it is too early to discuss a Russian troop withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson.
Mykhailo Podolyak told the news agency, “It makes no sense to talk of a Russian withdrawal until the Ukrainian flag is flying over Kherson.”
In response to an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive, Podolyak said that some Russian troops were still present in the area and that Russian commanders were pouring in more troops.