U.S. hails Ukraine's 'extraordinary victory' in Kherson
'It's a big moment and it's due to the incredible tenacity and skill of the Ukrainians'
The United States hailed Ukraine's "extraordinary victory" in recapturing Kherson from the Russians on Saturday.
"It's a big moment and it's due to the incredible tenacity and skill of the Ukrainians, backed by the relentless and united support of the United States and our allies," U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said while traveling to Cambodia with U.S. President Joe Biden for a regional summit.
Sullivan added, however, that Washington was yet to independently verify Russia’s claims that it pulled its forces from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region, abandoning the only regional capital captured in its invasion of Ukraine.
The withdrawal marked the third major Russian retreat of the war and the first to involve yielding such a large occupied city in the face of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that has retaken parts of the east and south.
Kherson province is one of four regions Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed from Ukraine in late September. It is also strategically important as the land gateway to Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 and where Moscow's Black Sea fleet is based.
General Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army forces in Europe, described the Russian retreat as a “colossal failure” and said he expects Ukrainian commanders will keep pressure on Russia’s depleted forces ahead of a possible future push for Crimea next year.
“It’s too early to be planning the victory parade, for sure. But I would expect by the end of this year — so in the next, let’s say, eight weeks — the Ukrainians are going to be in place to start setting the conditions for the decisive phase of this campaign, which is the liberation of Crimea, which I think will happen by the summer,” he said
Moscow’s forces, however, still control about 70 percent of the Kherson region.