Pentagon: Russia has lost partial control of first captured Ukrainian city
Russian forces are no longer in full control of Kherson, the first Ukrainian city Kremlin troops captured as part of its invasion into the country, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday.
“We’ve seen reports of resistance there in areas that were previously reported to be in Russian control,” the official told reporters. “We can’t corroborate exactly who is in control of Kherson, but the point is it doesn’t appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was before … we would argue that Kherson is actually contested territory again.”
The official said Ukrainian forces are fighting to take back control of the vital port city located northwest of Crimea.
However, that U.S. assessment has been challenged by both Russian and Ukrainian officials.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, the Russian defense ministry’s deputy head of the general staff, on Friday said the Kherson region was “under full control.”
And Ukrainian officials also said the city still looked to be under Russian control but that there were battles across the broader area, The New York Times reported.
Ukrainian forces have been able to bog down Russian troops across most major fighting hot spots in the country, frustrating the Russians and dealing major blows to President Vladimir Putin’s move to take the former Soviet state.
Should Kherson indeed be contested or eventually taken back, it would make it difficult for Moscow to move to take control of other major Ukrainian ports, including Odessa.
“That would be significant if the Ukrainians were able to take Kherson back. It is a strategically located city,” the official said.
Losing Kherson would also put at risk Russian troops fighting in nearby Mykolayiv, the official added.
Russian forces around Kyiv, meanwhile, are now in defensive positions and have stopped “any interest in terms of ground movement” toward the capital city.
“They’ve not made any advances toward the city, either from the north or northwest, and to the east of Kyiv, we still hold them about where they were before,” according to the official
“They are digging in, they’re establishing defensive positions, they don’t show any signs of being willing to move on Kyiv from the ground,” they said.
The official added that the assessment is in line with the U.S. view that Russia is now “prioritizing” fighting in eastern Ukraine, particularly the contested Donbas region where fighting has occurred since 2014.
“Clearly, they overestimated their ability to take Kyiv, and frankly they overestimated their ability to take any population center,” they said.
Rudskoy confirmed as much in his comments earlier on Friday.
“In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed,” he said. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, allowing us, I emphasize again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal: The liberation of Donbas.”
The Russians are, however, continuing to bomb cities, with some 1,250 missiles launched at Ukrainian targets since the attack began Feb. 24.
U.S. intelligence has also picked up indications that Moscow has started pulling from its forces in Georgia to send into Ukraine, the official noted.
Washington has seen “movement of some number of troops from Georgia,” — where Kremlin troops have been stationed since they invaded in 2008 — but the defense official could not provide a number.