The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday it has finished withdrawing troops from the western bank of the Dnipro River, which divides Ukraine’s key southern city of Kherson.
The big picture: The withdrawal, which includes leaving the only provincial capital captured by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine eight months ago, marks a major setback for Moscow and a remarkable victory for Ukrainian forces.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin insists Kherson is still a part of Russia.
- “This is a subject of the Russian Federation. There are no changes in this and there cannot be changed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
- Kherson Oblast is one of four Ukraine regions that Russia annexed in October in what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called a “sham referendum.” The regions combined make up about 15% of Ukraine.
- The Kremlin said Friday that the pullback of troops does not represent an embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin, per AP.
What they’re saying: “Not a single piece of military equipment was left on the right bank. There were no losses in manpower or military equipment and material resources of the Russian group of forces,” Kremlin Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashaekov said in a statement.
The other side: “Ukraine is gaining another important victory right now and proves that whatever Russia says or does, Ukraine will win,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet.
- Ukrainian officials remained cautious about the initial announcement of the retreat this week and feared their soldiers could be ambushed in Kherson.
- The leaving Russian troops laid mines throughout the city, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Thursday per AP, adding that he predicts their forces will shell Kherson once they relocate.
- “The Russian army leaves the battlefields in a triathlon mode: steeplechase, broad jumping, swimming,” senior presidential adviser Andriy Yermak tweeted Friday.