On Thursday, an anonymous Western official told Politico that Russia is preparing to quietly exit Kherson, publicly staging its troop withdrawal as a civilian evacuation.
The move would return the single largest city Russian forces have continually occupied throughout its invasion back to Ukraine, only two months after Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the greater oblast.
"We are confident in our previous warnings that the prospects of Russian military withdrawal from their Kherson bridgehead," the official said. "Planning is almost certainly well advanced."
It comes after Moscow-aligned Kherson Gov. Kirill Stremousov indicated to Russian state television Thursday that Russian troops would move to the region's left bank.
Although most Western intelligence believes the move will serve as a cover for troops to leave by crossing the Dnipro River's eastern bank, a Ukrainian military spokeswoman warned it could be a trick to lure Kyiv's forces into the city, Radio Liberty reported.
"This may be a provocation in order to create the impression that settlements have been abandoned, that it is safe to enter them," Natalia Humeniuk said on national television.
"Considering the fact that they have been preparing for street battles for a long time, the way they position their units, we are aware of the planned tactics and should not be in a hurry to rejoice."
The imminent Russian departure from Kherson follows a series of Ukrainian victories in their largely successful counteroffensive spanning Ukraine's southern and eastern regions.
Ukrainian officials claimed the country had recaptured over 450 square miles of territory from launching its liberation march in late August to early October, according to Reuters.
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