Wallace urges caution over Russian withdrawal from Kherson

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Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said he “will believe it when we see it”, when asked about Russia’s withdrawal from the Ukrainian city of Kherson.

It would be a “significant psychological blow” to Russian troops if they left the southern city, he said.

He was speaking at a meeting of ministers of the Joint Expeditionary Force nations in Edinburgh.

The defense alliance of 10 European countries has reiterated its support for Ukraine’s ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’, with the Netherlands contributing an additional €100m (£87m) to finance military equipment.

Along with other ministers, Wallace stressed that it was Ukraine’s choice whether or not to enter into peace talks with Russia.

He said: “What we have all helped Ukraine fight for is the right to choose.

“It is not for me to tell Ukraine what it should not negotiate.

“More important than what they do with their choice is that they have the right to choose as a free sovereign state without pressure, without a gun to the head of the Kremlin.”

Discussing Kherson, he said the city was the only major objective Russia had managed to capture and hold during the war.

Russian military leaders said they would withdraw from the city and form a new defensive line on the east bank of the Dnieper, but Ukrainian leaders were cautious about whether that had already happened.

Mr Wallace said: ‘It must have been quite a psychological blow that the only objective they managed to capture, they announced their intention to leave.

“Of course, it’s Russia, so we haven’t seen them leave en masse yet.

“We’ll believe it when we see it and I think we should all be careful, like (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky was, that there’s still Russian stuff and all kinds of stuff.

“But if they pull out of Kherson, that raises the bigger question of what was all this for?

“What was it with tens of thousands of dead as each of their primary targets failed to hold or capture since February.”

The world should not be grateful if Russia returns the “stolen goods”, he added.

Mr Wallace was also asked about reports that a British national was killed fighting in Ukraine.

He said he regretted the loss of all life and that the person in question was fighting with Ukrainian forces.

He said: “We have made our position clear from the start that if you want to help contribute as a British citizen, there are the armed forces you can contribute to in the UK.”

The minister said he understood the “strength of feelings” around the war, saying it was important to remember that tens of thousands of Ukrainians died defending their country.

Following the meeting, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said the new funding would allow Ukraine to source military aid directly from industry.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said it was important to “wait and see” what happened around Kherson.

She said: “The Russians were under a lot of pressure on that front.

“So it seems quite logical for them to pull out of Kherson but it’s also a big defeat from their point of view.

“If they do pull out, that means the winter period could be kind of a dead end.

“But from the Ukrainian point of view, (they are) in much better shape than the Russian armed forces at the moment.”

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