Russian forces may withdraw from the west side of the Dnieper River. Russia Signals Possible Kherson Retreat, But Ukraine Wary, according to a Moscow-installed official in the Kherson region. However, even as the United States expressed optimism about Ukraine’s capacity to reclaim the strategically significant southern city of Kherson, Kyiv was more cautious.

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy civilian administrator of the Kherson region, stated in an interview with a pro-Kremlin online media source on Thursday that “most likely our units, our soldiers, will move for the left (eastern) side.”

The region comprises Kherson City, the only significant Ukrainian city to have been completely occupied since Russia invaded the nation eight months ago. Kherson City is the capital of the region of the same name.

Additionally, it consists of a portion of a dam that spans the Dnieper and regulates the water flow used to cultivate Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia captured and then annexed in 2014.

Previously, Russia had denied that its forces intended to leave the region, and any retreat would have been a major setback for them.

Senior Kremlin officials reportedly remained silent on the matter on Thursday as pictures of significant buildings with Russian flags down went viral on social media.

The southern military command of Ukraine’s Natalia Humeniuk claimed the photographs released on pro-Kremlin Telegram accounts were misleading and that talk of a retreat may be a Russian trap.

She remarked in broadcast remarks, “This could be a manifestation of a specific provocation to give the illusion that the communities are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street clashes.

As Clear as Mud

Since the Dnieper River splits Ukraine in half, Russia has been struggling to cling onto a small area of land there on the west side.

Since the beginning of October, Ukraine has been making progress, targeting the main bridges over the river and making it challenging for Russia to continue feeding its troops on the west bank.

While addressing at the Pentagon on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin avoided a question about whether Russian forces were getting ready to leave but did express confidence in Ukraine’s capacity to hold them off.

Austin stated, “I certainly believe that they have the power to achieve that with regard to the question of whether the Ukrainians can capture the remaining area on the west side of the Dnipro [Dnieper] river and in Kherson.

“Most crucially, the Ukrainians think they can pull that off. They have been reclaiming their sovereign territory in a very methodical yet successful manner.

Russia Signals Possible Kherson Retreat, But Ukraine Wary

Under the condition of anonymity, a Western diplomat told the news agency Reuters that he believed Russia intended to withdraw to the east of the river so that it could better defend its forces.

The person added that some Russian commanders had already rebased and remarked, “We assume that preparation is probably certainly far underway.”

The Western official said that in Kherson, “We would estimate that most echelons of command have probably fled now across the river to the east, leaving pretty demoralized and frequently in some cases leaderless men to face off Ukrainians on the other side.”

However, Ukrainian front-line troops are more wary, telling Reuters reporters who visited last week that they had seen no indication that Russian forces were pulling back and thought they were really fortifying their positions.

After recently visiting regions close to the Kherson front, Michael Kofman, head of Russia Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses in Washington, DC, wrote on Twitter that Moscow’s aims were unclear and that fighting in Kherson was “tough.”

Although he “might be incorrect about this,” he didn’t think Russia would leave the west bank of the river “without being forcibly pressed out.”

Kofman stated, “The situation in Kherson is clear as mud.”

“Energy terrorism”

As the battle for Kherson drew closer, Kyiv denounced what it called the “bulk forced relocation” of its nationals who were in Russian-occupied territory.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday that “the Russian occupation authority launched mass forced displacement of people of the left-bank of the Kherson region… to the temporarily occupied Crimea or to Russia.”

In addition to Crimea, Russia is also conducting similar deportations in Zaporizhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk.

Moscow-installed Vladimir Saldo, the governor of Kherson, stated that he was relocating residents farther into the area or to Russia due to the possibility of a “major missile attack.” 70,000 inhabitants have reportedly abandoned their houses on the right bank of the Dnieper, according to the authorities there who were placed by Moscow last week.

Energy terrorism

During the eight-month conflict, Ukraine has charged Russian forces with war crimes, which Moscow denies. While the battle has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, and destroyed cities and towns, Russia denies purposefully targeting civilians.

As winter approaches and temperatures can drop well below zero degrees Celsius, recent attacks on Ukrainian energy and water supplies have had a particularly negative impact on citizens.

According to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s nightly video message, the current blackouts brought on by Russian assaults left 4.5 million Ukrainians in the capital Kyiv and 10 other districts without electricity.

The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), which is located in southern Ukraine, was also cut off from the electrical grid after shelling damaged the remaining high-voltage lines, forcing the facility to rely solely on diesel generators.

“The very act of Russia engaging in energy terrorism exposes the frailty of our adversary. They want to break our people in this way since they can’t defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, Zelenskyy stated.

About a third of Ukraine’s power plants were destroyed by Russian airstrikes during the past month, and the government has urged its citizens to use electricity as sparingly as possible.