By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MOSCOW/KYIV/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Russia on Wednesday ordered its troops to withdraw from the critical Ukrainian city Kherson, the only regional capital Moscow had captured since its invasion began on February 24.
The order came hours after Kherson’s Russian-installed deputy governor died in what Russian state media said was a car crash.
Kirill Stremousov, 45, was sought by Ukrainian police for “treason.” His death followed the killings of several other Russian leaders, including top military and other officials, as well as executives, in recent months.
The Russian withdrawal from Kherson meant a significant breakthrough in Ukraine’s ongoing Western-backed counter-offensive.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian troops have recaptured thousands of square kilometers (miles) of territories annexed by Russia.
The Russian withdrawal, announced in televised remarks, came after General Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, told Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, that the decision was “difficult.”
But he said a withdrawal would “preserve lives of servicemen and combat readiness of forces.” Western intelligence officials have suggested that at least tens of thousands of Russian troops have been killed or seriously injured since the war broke out more than eight months ago.
The retreat from the city of Kherson would be a major victory for Ukrainian forces, who long sought to recapture the city and push back Russian troops from the western banks of the Dnipro River.
The withdrawal from the only regional capital under Moscow’s control is also a humiliating public setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Western intelligence officials reportedly said he had rejected earlier commanders’ requests that they are allowed to pull back from the city.
The retreat from Kherson has strategic and symbolic importance.
The vital Black Sea port was the first major city to fall to Russian control less than a week after the invasion. Capturing Kherson, a shipbuilding city about 340 miles (544 kilometers), was viewed as crucial for Ukraine.
Kherson provides access to the Black Sea and is a gateway to Crimea, the peninsula that Russia occupied in 2014. It also gives access to Ukraine’s southern coastline for invading Russian forces.
The withdrawal comes amid behind-the-scenes talks between Washington and Moscow about ending the war and preventing nuclear escalation, Worthy News learned.
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