A Ukrainian military spokesman claims the Russians are beginning to withdraw from an area they previously occupied.
The spokeswoman for the Southern Command of Ukraine Natalia Humeniuk told Ukraine’s Channel 24 that Moscow-installed proxies begin evacuation on the east bank of Kherson and when exiting “take documents and looted things with them”.
Russian forces withdrew from Kherson in November in response to the Ukrainian push, although last month they resumed shelling along the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine in what the British Defense Ministry describes as “lowering civilian morale”.
Kherson Oblast was one of four territories annexed by Russia last September in what the West calls a sham referendum, the others include Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia.
“This is a sign that another ‘goodwill gesture’ is being prepared,” Humeniuk said, repeating a phrase that has become routine in the Kremlin lexicon to cover up previous withdrawals from Kiev and Snake Island.
She also claimed that the Russian military was using the civilian population on the Black Sea coast in Kherson and Mykolaiv Oblasts as “human shields”.
“They place their firing positions, including MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems), right in the backyards of local residents,” she said. “That makes it difficult for us to react, but it’s not entirely impossible.”
Ukrainian forces continue to monitor Russian maneuvers and intentions, she added, expressing optimism of seeing “good results” soon.
Mikhail Troitskiy, professor of practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said news week that Russia may be hedging its bets and attempting to entrench its forces in convenient defensive positions in the Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts.
“With Ukraine’s growing arsenal of weapons, it may be difficult for Russian forces to defend the left bank of the Dnieper in Kherson Oblast, while further east there may be more defensible fortresses that Russia is building,” he said.
There are political implications, he added. This includes Russia showing China and even Western supporters of Ukraine that Moscow is “amenable to some kind of compromise based on a territorial status quo that includes parts of the territory that Russia seized from Ukraine after February 24, 2022, will be left in Russia’s hands.”
Humeniuk said a recent Russian attack in the Dnipro-Buzka estuary could be a provocation related to this week’s expiry of the Black Sea Grains Initiative.
The initiative was originally brokered by the United Nations (UN) and Turkey last July in Istanbul in response to rising food prices across Europe. Russia and Ukraine agreed on a deal that resulted in ships being allowed back across the Black Sea to export grain.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told the Russian state news agency TASS on Tuesday that the expiring contract had been extended by another 60 days.
The deal, Grushko said, is conditional on “the lifting of all direct and indirect sanctions against the supply of Russian agricultural products to international markets.”
“It’s not just about the actual transportation option itself, access to foreign ports for our ships, [but also] about insurance, as well as the need to solve problems directly related to the production and cultivation of grain in our country,” he added.
UN officials said on Tuesday that the 60-day extension agreed by Russia is “half of the days agreed [the initiative] first expired in November.”
About 24 million tons of grain have been exported since the mediation, the UN said, including over 1,600 Black Sea voyages by ship. Developed countries have reportedly received over 55 percent of food exports.
“The UN Secretary-General [António Guterres] has confirmed that the UN will do everything in its power to safeguard the integrity of the Black Sea Grains Initiative and ensure its continuity,” the UN said in a press statement Tuesday after meeting Russian delegates in Geneva on Monday. “The support the UN for the agreements reached in Istanbul is part of the global response to the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.”
The deal includes facilitating Russian food and fertilizer exports, officials added.
While the Kremlin is signaling “good will” with the grain initiative, according to Troitskiy, the nation is also showing flexibility towards China and Turkey in “adjusting” their land purchases.
“Russia may hope to persuade China to support this kind of temporary solution and seek to impose it on Ukraine, given Beijing’s insinuations that it is arming Russia, the likely depletion of Ukraine’s resources and – possibly – the dwindling Expectations in western Ukraine could consider ability to conduct a major offensive to completely expel Russia,” Troitskiy said.
news week together with the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries, turned to the UN for an opinion.