Moscow reportedly withdrew its military officers from the southern city of Kherson over the weekend ahead of an expected counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops, amid signs Russian fighters were preparing for a brutal civil war. were urged to flee the area.

The Institute for the Study of War, a leading military think tank, said on Sunday that the Russian leadership had withdrawn its officers from Kherson, a key city in southern Ukraine on the banks of the Dnipro River.

The city and surrounding villages have been largely under Russian control since the early weeks of the war in late February. Its recapture by Ukrainian troops would be a strategic and symbolic victory for Kyiv, which has steadily retaken eastern and southern Ukraine as part of a months-long coordinated counter-offensive backed by US-made weapons. done.

Russian authorities in Kherson, installed soon after the Russian occupation began, urged citizens to leave the city as soon as possible.

Citing Ukrainian defense officials, the Institute for the Study of War said over the weekend that “some Russian elements are preparing the city of Kherson for civil combat, while other service members ferry the ferry around the Antonyevsky Bridge.” fleeing the city through.”

With heavy fighting looming, Western intelligence officials say Russian forces are trying to build new bridges around Kherson to help move troops and supplies in and out of the city.

The British Ministry of Defense said over the weekend that Russian troops had recently completed a new barge bridge over the Dnipro outside Kherson.

“Although the use of heavy barge bridges was almost certainly part of Soviet-era planning for operations in Europe, this is likely the first time the Russian military has needed to use this type of bridge in decades. ,” the ministry tweeted. “The use of civilian barges potentially provides additional material and logistical advantages to Russia, which lost substantial amounts of military bridging equipment and engineering personnel during its invasion.”

Kherson and the surrounding area connect Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula, which was forcibly annexed by Russian troops in 2015 and has become a key location for Russian troops in the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The loss of Kherson would mark a major strategic setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military, as their positions in Crimea would be more easily vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.

Kherson province is one of four provinces that Mr. Putin has claimed annexed to Russia, although virtually the entire world rejects these claims and still considers the areas part of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian troops continued a campaign of large-scale drone and rocket attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure across the country over the weekend.

With the help of Iranian-made drones, Russian troops have targeted power generation sites, water treatment plants and other installations in Ukraine. The campaign is an attempt by Russia to demoralize Ukraine and leave millions of Ukrainians without heat and hot water as winter approaches.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that would not work.

“Russian propagandists are lying when they say that this terrorism against our infrastructure and people can somehow slow down the active operations of our military or create some difficulties for our defense,” ” Mr Zielinski said in a speech on Saturday. “Ukrainians are united and know for sure that Russia has no chance of winning this war. Our defense forces are getting everything they need to defend the country and are advancing every day.

• This article is partially based on wire service reports.

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