Colonel Mart Vendla, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), said on ETV show "Ukraina Stuudio," that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson should have taken significantly more time. Vendla said, that according to the latest figures, up to 15,000 Russian soldiers are now believed to have left the city.
"The Russian footprint in Kherson is vulnerable. After the bridges were demolished, there was a clear understanding, that it would be too difficult to hold and maintain this contingent (of troops) on the(west) bank (of the River Dnieper). In a way, this was to be expected. There are still a whole series of questions, which I cannot answer precisely about how it happened and on what scale. Military intelligence has concealed a large part of this operation," Vendla said.
The colonel added, that the biggest question currently being asked, is where the Russian troops disappeared to so quickly. "We all remember the press conference a few days ago where the (Russian) military commander said they were launching an extraction operation. Let's see the reality doesn't match the all the theatrics involved. At the end of the day, the laws of physics are the same, regardless of the regime - it would take significantly more time to withdraw so many troops," he said.
Vendla explained, that the first signs Russia was moving its troops out of Kherson amongst civilians, appeared in October. "We have still not been able to verify that they were leaving in such high numbers. Since much of the information available to us comes against the background of geo-location pitfalls and social media, it all needs to be validated (by cross-referencing) with other information in order to be able to make a considered assessment and claim that it was indeed happening on such a large scale."
According to Vendla, claims that between 25,000 and 30,000 Russian soldiers have been withdrawn from the city are inaccurate. "Our estimate is somewhere around half that amount. That's what the so-called verified numbers are," he said.
Last week, there were suggestions that Russia's withdrawal from Kherson may be a trap. However, according to Vendla, the purpose of the withdrawal was to prevent Russian troops themselves from being trapped. Whether they mine their exit routes or use other means to slow the Ukrainian advance, is, in Vendla's view, more of a technical question, though he believes the Russian troops are most likely to leave traps of some form as they retreat.
The withdrawal of Russian troops to the eastern bank of the River Dnieper will further limit their ability to advance on Kherson. However, according to Vendla, a Ukrainian counter-attack on the eastern bank would involve a high level of risk. "Being outnumbered, the Ukrainians are, as we know, trying to fight economically and smartly. The Ukrainians will probably move their liberated brigades towards Zaporizhzhia or, if necessary Donetsk and Luhansk, depending on how the Russians fare there. Although autumn is coming, because the initiative is now clearly in the hands of the Ukrainians, they will keep trying for as long as they can to take back more ground," said Vendla.
Editor: Michael Cole