kyiv judged on Saturday that the West was on the way to a “common victory” over Russia the day after the recapture of the city of Kherson, an episode hailed as a “historic day” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Ukrainian national anthem sounded in this city in southern Ukraine on Friday after Russian troops withdrew.
Kherson had been the first major city to fall after the Russian invasion launched at the end of February. At the time, “very few people believed that Ukraine would survive”, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of a summit of Southeast Asia in Phnom Penh.
“Only together can we prevail and drive Russia out of Ukraine. We are on the right track,” Mr. Kuleba said, “and our victory will be our common victory.”
The Russian withdrawal from Kherson marks “a new strategic failure” on the part of Moscow, rejoiced for his part the British Minister of Defense, Ben Wallace, in a press release published on Saturday.
Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to US President Joe Biden, called the takeover of the city by the Kyiv army an “extraordinary victory”, “quite remarkable”.
“Today is a historic day. We are taking back the south of the country, we are taking back Kherson, ”welcomed Mr. Zelensky on Friday evening in his daily speech published on social networks.
“The special forces are already in the city,” he added, adding that their first job would be to neutralize the numerous mines left by the Russian army, which had occupied Kherson since mid-March.
A video posted on Telegram by Volodymyr Zelensky, presented as coming from Kherson, showed Ukrainian soldiers claiming to be from the “28th brigade” cheered in the night by a crowd chanting “VCU”, the acronym of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Ukraine is “winning battles on the ground. But the war continues,” Mr. Kuleba nevertheless told Mr. Blinken, who hailed the “remarkable courage” of the Ukrainian military and people and pledged his country’s support “as long as it takes” to defeat the Russia.
“Finally my free city”
This Russian withdrawal is the third on a scale since the beginning of the invasion on February 24, Russia having had to give up in the spring to take kyiv in the face of fierce resistance from the Ukrainians, before being driven out of almost all of the Kharkiv region (northeast) in September.
Friday evening, on the emblematic Maidan square in kyiv, residents of Kherson who had been refugees for months in the capital celebrated the news with jubilation.
“Finally my free city, the one where I was born, where I lived all my life,” said Nastia Stepenska with tears in her eyes, the national colors painted on her cheeks. ” When they [les Russes] arrived, it was horror, we didn’t know what would happen the next day, if we would stay alive, “says the 17-year-old high school student, who says she is” in shock “.
Earlier Friday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had completed “the redeployment” of its units from the right (western) bank of the Dnieper, on which Kherson is located, to the left bank, claiming to have suffered no losses, nor abandoned military equipment.
According to Moscow, “more than 30,000” Russian soldiers and “nearly 5,000 units of armaments and military vehicles have been withdrawn” from the western bank of the Dnieper.
This withdrawal, however, has all the snub, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, having claimed at the end of September the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including that of Kherson.
The latter, despite the withdrawal, remains “a subject of the Russian Federation”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. “There can be no change,” he added, in the Russian presidency’s first comment on this retreat.
With the approach of the G20, summit of world economic powers scheduled for next week in Indonesia and where Mr. Putin has given up on going, the French presidency wanted to see the possibility of a dialogue.
“There is a very clear space at the G20 to carry a message of peace and ask Russia to enter into the logic of de-escalation,” said an adviser to President Macron. “A very large majority within the club [du G20] considers that this war is enormous and unbearable for the rest of the world”.
Asked on Saturday about reports that Washington had begun to pressure Mr. Zelensky to consider negotiations with Moscow, Mr. Sullivan noted that Russia continued to have “outlandish claims” to its neighbor’s territory.
“Ukraine is the party of peace in this conflict and Russia is the party of war” and “our position remains the same as in the past and fundamentally it is in close consultation and support of President Zelensky”, said Mr. Sullivan, judging that “if Ukraine chose to stop fighting […] it would be the end of Ukraine”.
Mr. Zelensky repeated this week that the first condition for a negotiation was the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, which entered Ukraine on February 24.
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