Does Russia’s retreat from Kherson open a new phase in the war?

Elizabeth Smith

Russia announces retreat from Kherson while Zelensky, under American pressure, says he is open to peace talks. Possible new phase of the war?

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city of Kherson. The news is particularly relevant for several reasons and opens up several possible new scenarios. Ukraine greeted the news with caution, partly because of doubts as to the real reason for this withdrawal.

The most obvious and intuitive reason is that of a retreat for strategic military reasons. This, given the persistent difficulties of the Russian army in facing the Ukrainian counter-offensive. There are, however, those who advance the idea that this move could represent a détente step.

Indeed, rumours have been persisting for some time about US pressure on Ukrainian President Zelensky to change his approach to negotiations with Russia.

Russia announces withdrawal from Kherson: the scenarios

The retreat of Russian troops from Kherson was announced on live television by Defence Minister Shoigu. Together with General Surovikin, who was appointed in October by Putin as the new commander of Russian troops deployed in Ukraine.

The news was greeted with some astonishment from many quarters. Until a few days ago, in fact, Shoigu had repeatedly said that the Russian advance in the region would continue. Kherson is also the capital of the region of the same name. Which is one of the four regions annexed by Putin following the famous farcical referendum at the end of September. So technically with this decision Russia is abandoning the capital of a region recognised as part of its territory.

The move has therefore clearly given rise to various interpretations. The main hypothesis clearly remains that of a retreat for strategic military purposes.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson area is still difficult for Russian forces to contain. So they may have chosen to proceed with this retreat in order to avoid ending up here too with isolated troops that are impossible for the Ukrainian army to supply easily.

US pressure on Zelensky: do not rule out negotiations with Putin

This decision, however, comes at a time when there are rumours about an increasingly constant pressure from the US administration on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This, to reopen the possibility of negotiations.

Zelensky, following Russia’s annexation of the four Ukrainian regions, had in fact signed a decree stating that it was impossible to conduct negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On this point, several American media reported how Biden had pushed the Ukrainian homologous to a turnaround on the indication expressed in that decree.

And it was precisely in connection with COP27 that Zelensky made this change of line explicit for the first time, stating that he was open to peace talks with Russia, even without waiting for a new president.

This situation, coupled with the now established re-establishment of lines of communication between Russia and the United States, has prompted many to see this retreat as a sign of détente. With a view to possible new negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. However, at the moment these are only suppositions.

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