Chances of peace negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow seem to have once again diminished following Russia’s withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson with a top U.S. official Saturday calling on Ukraine to “liberate” all its citizens from Russian “barbarity.”
Some, like General Mark Milley, thought Russia’s withdrawal from the city it occupied for eight months could be the tactical advantage Ukraine needed to kick-start negotiations to end the war.
Russia this week even signaled it was open to talks, though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would only engage in discussions of peace with Russia so long as it returned all occupied lands, provide compensation for war damage and faced prosecution for its war crimes.
U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Michael Carpenter, backed Zelenskyy’s long-held stance and pointed to new atrocities uncovered in Kherson.
“As Ukrainian forces liberate Kherson, they are uncovering evidence of torture and other despicable crimes committed by Russia’s occupying forces,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “Ukraine must liberate all of its citizens from this barbarity.”
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace echoed this sentiment and highlighted a concern noted by some defense experts who have warned Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson could be a ploy.
“While the withdrawal is welcome, no one is going to underestimate the threat posed by the Russian Federation,” he said in a Saturday statement.
Wallace said Russia’s withdraw from the southern city just two months after its forces were forced out of Kharkiv marked “another strategic failure for them.”
“Now with [Kherson] also being surrendered, ordinary people of Russia must surely ask themselves ‘What was it all for?’,” he questioned. “The Russian Army has suffered a huge loss of life as a result of their illegal invasion and have only achieved international isolationism and humiliation. Ukraine will press on.”
Milley said earlier this week that the U.S. estimates that “well over” 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured in the fighting since the Feb. 24 invasion.
“Same thing probably on the Ukrainian side,” Milley added, noting that another 40,000 Ukrainian citizens are believed to have been killed.
“There has been a tremendous amount of suffering, human suffering,” he said.
Russian troops have retreated to the eastern side of the Dnieper River which lines the city of Kherson’s eastern bank.
Ukrainian troops continue to advance in the Kherson region and it remains unclear if Russia plans to evacuate its forces even more in an attempt to avoid the kind of personnel and military equipment losses it saw in Kharkiv in September.
Milley estimated that 20,000-30,000 Russia soldiers are in the Kherson region and said it could take weeks for a troop count of that size to retreat.