December 6, 2022

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A Russian commander admits that the situation is "tense" for his forces in Ukraine

A Russian commander admits that the situation is “tense” for his forces in Ukraine

  • Ukrainians push to take back areas claimed by Russia
  • Russia has relocated some civilians from towns in Kherson region
  • Russia destroys energy and water infrastructure throughout Ukraine
  • Kyiv asks UN to examine what it says are Iranian-made drones

Kyiv (Reuters) – The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine has issued a rare acknowledgment of the pressure they have come under from Ukrainian attacks to retake the southern and eastern regions that Moscow claims only weeks ago.

In another indication of Russian concern, the head of the strategic southern Kherson region installed by the Kremlin on Tuesday announced an “orderly and gradual displacement” of civilians from four towns on the Dnipro River.

“The situation in the ‘special military operation’ area can be described as tense,” Sergei Surovkin, commander of the Russian Air Force, told state-run Rossiya 24 news channel.

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Regarding Kherson, Surovkin said: “The situation in this region is difficult. The enemy is deliberately bombing infrastructure and residential buildings in Kherson.”

Russian forces at Kherson have retreated 20-30 kilometers (13-20 miles) in the past few weeks and are in danger of being caught on the western bank of the 2,200-kilometre Dnipro River that divides Ukraine.

Also in the south, Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russia-established council that governs Zaporizhia, said Ukrainian forces have intensified their nightly bombing of the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar – the city where many employees of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant live.

He said on the messaging app Telegram on Wednesday that artillery fire hit the outskirts of the town and there were 10 strikes around a thermal power plant.

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Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

Both Ukraine and Russia have denied targeting civilians, although Ukraine has accused Russian forces of war crimes.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said he expected to return “soon” to Ukraine amid negotiations to create a security protection zone around the Zaporizhzhya facility, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

The Zaporizhzhia plant is located in one of four Ukrainian regions declared annexed by Russia but only partially occupied, the other three being Kherson, the eastern border provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk – known together as Donbass.

President Vladimir Putin declared these two regions full-fledged regions of Russia after holding what Moscow called referendums in September, which Kyiv and Western governments denounced as illegal and coercive.

Ukraine builds forces

Since Russian troops poured across the Ukrainian border on February 24 in what Putin called a “special military operation,” the conflict has turned into a war of attrition that has been fought mainly in the east and south.

Positions of Russian forces in Kobyansk and Lyman in eastern Ukraine and the area between Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih in Kherson Province reported by Sorovikin are under constant attack.

He seemed to acknowledge the danger of Ukrainian forces advancing towards Kherson, near the mouth of the Dnipro River on the west bank. Russia captured the city in the early days of the invasion and it remains the only major Ukrainian city captured by Russian forces.

Russia-backed officials have warned that a Ukrainian attack may be imminent.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russia-appointed head of the Kherson region, said the threat of attack by Ukrainian forces led to the decision to evacuate some civilians from four towns.

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“The Ukrainian side is mobilizing its forces to launch a large-scale attack,” Saldo said in a video statement. He said the Russian army was preparing to repel the attack, and “wherever the army operates there is no place for civilians.”

Missiles and drones rain

Last week, Russia launched the largest wave of missile strikes against Ukraine since the start of the invasion.

Putin described the air strikes with missiles and drones in retaliation for an explosion that destroyed Russia’s bridge to Crimea.

Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the bridge explosion, but celebrated it.

Ukraine has called on UN experts to inspect what it says are Iranian-origin drones used by Russia in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The United States, Britain and France plan to raise allegations of Iranian arms transfers to Russia at a closed-door meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday, diplomats said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his video address on Tuesday evening that Russia’s reliance on Iranian-made drones exposes that Russia is “militarily and politically bankrupt”.

Ukraine accuses Russia of using Iranian-made Shahed-136 “Kamikaze” aircraft. Iran denies supplying them and the Kremlin denies using them.

However, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters that Tehran has promised to provide Russia with more drones and surface-to-surface missiles.

Zelensky said Russia destroyed nearly a third of Ukraine’s power plants in the past week.

In his speech, Zelensky said Russia had targeted more than 10 regions in the past 24 hours, and urged Ukrainians to cut back on electricity consumption in the evening.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Grant McCall and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Stephen Coates and Robert Persell

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.