Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced Wednesday he was ordering Moscow's forces to retreat from Ukraine's strategically critical Kherson City. The move could be a setback in President Vladimir Putin's war campaign, but Ukrainian officials are skeptical of the announcement.
Shoigu instructed the retreat during a televised meeting with top Russian military officials, The New York Times reports. Commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovokin, acknowledged that the decision wasn't easy. Still, withdrawing would "preserve lives of servicemen and combat readiness of forces," he said. Surovokin cited Ukraine's continual shelling, potential flooding, and the difficult task of maintaining crossing points as the reasons he suggested the pullout.
"Under these conditions, the city of Kherson and nearby settlements cannot be supplied in a fully-fledged manner," Surovokin explained. "After a thorough assessment of the current situation, I offer to take up defense along the left bank of the Dnipro River."
Shoigu replied, "Go ahead with the pullout of troops and take all measures to ensure safe transfer of troops, weapons, and equipment to the other bank of the Dnipro River."
Ukrainian officials worry the announcement might be a ruse to lure them into urban combat. They remain suspicious of the Russian military's intent to withdraw from the city and their surrounding stronghold on the river's west bank, per the Times. However, Colonel Roman Kostenko, chair of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine's Parliament, said there were signs that Russia has begun to retreat.
"They blew up bridges that would have allowed our forces to advance," Kostenko said. "We see them leaving population centers, but in some, they leave soldiers behind to cover their movements."