Russia’s retreat ‘creates a danger’ for Putin says reporter
Vladimir Putin has been left “humiliated” and “on the back foot” as a result of Ukraine’s recapture of Kherson, the chairman of Parliament’s defense committee has said. However, Tobias Ellwood also believes Western leaders including US President Joe Biden would be making a grave mistake if they were to regard Kyiv’s “impressive” military advance as a reason to seek a deal with Russia to end the nine-month war.
Mr Ellwood, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East, was speaking after Ukrainian forces retook the key city in the south of the country with Russian forces retreating across the Dnipro river.
Pictures at the weekend showed jubilant residences celebrating in the city center – although military experts have cautioned against regarding Ukraine’s triumph as a watershed moment in the conflict.
Mr Ellwood, who is preparing for a visit to the strategically vital port of Odessa next week, agreed.
He told Express.co.uk: “This shows that they have got Russia on the back foot and the Ukraine tactics, of isolating them rather than attacking the city directly, were quite impressive.
“What they did was actually circumnavigate and surround the city, hitting crucial bridges over the Dnipro river and hampering supply lines.
Kherson: A liberating soldier is greeted by a resident of the city
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
“It was a wise strategy to make that position so unattainable they had to abandon their prize and it is a big prize, there’s no doubt about it. This is symbolic, and it underlines how Putin has been humiliated.
However, he added: “It is really premature to assume that he is unpopular back home. There is frustration with this war but ultimately, his stock remains high with 70 percent approval ratings and so we’re not going to get anyone to push him off his perch anytime soon.
“We’ve got to recognize that even if Putin were to go, there is a higher intention that Russians now pursue, to push NATO back to 1997 borders.
“That’s their long-term objective, so even defeating Putin won’t change the parameters on the ground.”
Turning his attention to what happens next, Mr Ellwood added: “It’s worrying to hear some nations, including the US, talk about now striking a deal.
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“Apart from sending the wrong message to China, I absolutely think this would simply allow Russia to regroup as they’ve done in the past, and come back stronger in a couple of years’ time.
“Instead we need to send the message that we’ve got the staying power and recognize that Putin remains very dangerous indeed.”
Any deal which permitted Russia to keep any territory it has gained since the invasion on February 24 also had major implications for Ukraine, Mr Ellwood pointed out.
He said: “There’s another angle to this which is making sure Ukraine is strong enough that its economy can thrive in the future.
“And I can’t see any prospect of that happening if Russia still owns a chunk of Ukraine. That will cause so much disruption and long term instability it will it would inhibit Ukraine from being able to start fresh.”
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Referring to the weapons which Britain has supplied to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Ellwood said: “So the only way you get there is firstly by flushing Russia out, and secondly, having the long term-guarantees of security and self-preservation that come with either NATO membership, or indeed, security provided from through bilateral forms.”
He also stressed that while there would likely be a hiatus now with the onset of winter, there was little doubt Russia would resume hostilities in 2023. Mr Ellwood warned: “Russia’s got 80,000 reservists heading to the front. I know they’re not well-trained, but 80,000 soldiers is still a lot that can cause mayhem.
“And then there are twice as many now undergoing basic trading as well in Russia and Belarus.
“So this all points to the fact that Putin is withdrawing away to his own line of lines of strength in order to then come back fighting in the spring, that’s where I think things are now going.”
Samuel Cranny-Evans, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), likewise stressed the need for “caution”.
Ukrainian territorial disputes mapped
He said: “Ukraine has not won yet and it is not certain that they will. A long hard winter is ahead and the Russians will likely continue to fight.
“It’s problematic for the Russians as that river will be hard to re-cross, so it might lead to a readjustment of their war aims or a new narrative.
“It was a rational choice for the Russians although the timing was a bit odd/late.
“The Ukrainians could sit and shell them from long range and they wouldn’t have stood much of a chance, the Ukrainians also didn’t need to go into the city and fight street to street.
“So, militarily, given their current position, it made sense to withdraw and try to preserve the forces there.”
Tobias Ellwood is the chairman of Parliament’s defense committee
Ukraine’s retaking of Kherson was a major setback for the Kremlin and the latest in a series of battlefield embarrassments.
It came some six weeks after Putin’s illegal annexation the Kherson region and three other provinces in southern and eastern Ukraine.
As Ukrainian forces yesterday consolidated their hold on Kherson, authorities contemplated the massive task of clearing out explosive devices and restoring basic public services in the city with its population of 280,000.
One Ukrainian official described the situation in Kherson as “a humanitarian catastrophe” with remaining residents lacking water, medicine and food.
Ukrainian police called on residents to help identify collaborators with Russian forces during the eight-month occupation. Ukrainian police officers returned to the city on Saturday, together with public broadcasting services, after the departure of Russian troops.