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Putin backs evacuation of Ukraine’s Kherson region

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly backed the evacuation of civilians from parts of the Kherson region of southern Ukraine amid conflicting reports about the imposition of a curfew in the Russian-controlled area.

“Now, of course, those who live in Kherson must be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population must not suffer,” Putin told pro-Kremlin activists on Friday as he marked Russia’s Unity Day. Russia.

Russia may be preparing to abandon its military foothold on the west bank of the Dnieper River, including the regional capital of Kherson, in what would be one of the largest Russian withdrawals of the war.

Kherson, a city with a pre-conflict population of about 284,000, is the only major city Russia has captured intact since its invasion in February. The surrounding province controls land access to Russian-occupied Crimea and securing it was one of the few successes of a disastrous Russian campaign.

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Ukraine said the evacuations include the forced relocation of civilians, a war crime, which Moscow denies.

Ukraine has been wary of blatant signs of a Russian defeat, including images circulating on the Internet showing that Russia’s flag no longer flies over the main administration building in the city of Kherson, saying that these posters could be a trap.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed occupation administration in Kherson, said Thursday that Russia is likely to withdraw its troops from the West Bank.

In later comments, he was more equivocal, saying he hoped there would be no withdrawal, but “we have some very difficult decisions to make.”

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Stremousov also said on Friday that a 24-hour curfew had been imposed on the city to defend it from a likely Ukrainian offensive, but he backed down soon after.

“In the city of Kherson there are absolutely no restrictions limiting city life,” Stremousov said on Telegram after an earlier message announcing a curfew on the same channel was deleted.

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Russian authorities claimed to have formally annexed Kherson along with three other provinces on September 30, even though Moscow did not have full control on the ground.

Ukraine’s defense minister said last week that the counteroffensive against Russian forces in Kherson was proving more difficult than in the northeast due to wet weather and terrain.

Kyiv has been begging for more military assistance from Western allies to push past Russian fortified positions towards the city of Kherson.

The United States on Friday announced the refurbishment of T-72 tanks and HAWK surface-to-air missiles as part of an approximately $400 million security assistance package for Ukraine.

The T-72s are no match for more modern tanks, such as the German Leopard or the American Abrams that Kyiv has sought.

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The “tanks come from the defense industry of the Czech Republic, and the United States is paying for the renovation of 45 of them, and the government of the Netherlands is matching our commitment” for a total of 90 T-72s, deputy press secretary of the Pentagon. Sabrina Singh told reporters.

Soviet-era tanks will be equipped with “advanced optics, communications and armor packages,” some ready by the end of December and others for delivery in 2023, he said.

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Singh cited factors including ease of use and cost as reasons for not providing more modern equipment.

The package also funds the replenishment of HAWK missiles from US inventories, a major asset as Ukraine seeks to counter Russian missile and drone attacks on its cities and energy infrastructure.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the Group of Seven (G7) countries were focusing more of their security support on helping Ukraine fend off Russian attacks on its energy grid.

“The G7 has agreed to create a new coordination group to help prepare, restore and defend Ukraine’s energy network, the same network that President Putin has abused,” Blinken said after a two-day G7 meeting in the city of Muenster, in western Germany.

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He accused Russia of trying to “freeze [Ukrainians] in submission.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said four million people in Ukraine were being affected by ongoing power cuts.

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