Under pressure from Ukrainian counter-offensives, Russia’s troops are withdrawing from a strategically important part of the annexed southern Kherson region. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered the right bank of the Dnipro River to be cleared, according to Russian state television.

So a victory for Ukraine, which has been partially reclaiming the territory for months? After all, Cherson is the only provincial capital that Russia has been able to capture since invading Ukraine – and has so far defended it fiercely.

Some observers see the Russian retreat as a deadly trap. Although troops are being withdrawn, the city itself has been inhabited by soldiers in civilian clothes for months, who have been billeted in private houses. The Russian troops seem ready like partisans for house-to-house combat.

“The Russians want to show that the Kremlin will answer Kiev’s counter-offensive with all its might,” believes Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov. “It’s scary to think about what that answer might be,” he told Die Welt. He is certain: If the Russians lose Cherson, “they will rather wipe it off the map than leave it to the Ukraine”.

The Australian military expert and ex-General Mick Ryan also brings a possible bluff of the Russians into play. “Is the withdrawal real or possibly part of a deception campaign to draw Ukrainians into a fight the Russians have been preparing for?” he asks in a thread on Twitter. However, he believes that the Russians are actually withdrawing.

What is striking, however, is that the announcement of the withdrawal was made by the military in the form of Defense Minister Shoigu and not by Putin. “Territory cessions should be a political decision; this is further evidence that Putin is clearly using the military as a scapegoat for the Russian debacle in Ukraine,” believes Ryan.

Other military observers, on the other hand, see Russia’s withdrawal as a strategic sticking point for Ukraine. They can now say that they have liberated Cherson. Because Cherson is much closer to the front line than Zaporizhia, for example, there is now a risk of heavy and constant shelling. Even in Zaporizhia, 40 kilometers from the front, Russia is shooting into the city every day, without Ukraine being able to do much about it.

So it’s all just a trap? At least the Russians haven’t run out of ammunition – despite Ukraine’s ongoing attacks in recent weeks. To date they have been able to bring supplies and troops to the west bank of the Dnipro. The new supreme commander of the Russians in the Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, seems to have managed to successfully reorganize his soldiers here.

Three weeks ago, in a rare interview on Russian television, he spoke of a “complicated situation” and “difficult decisions” in Cherson. Surovikin was installed to prevent the Russians from being embarrassed again like in Kharkov. “Our further military actions in Cherson depend on the respective tactical situation,” he said. Perhaps now the real battle for the liberation of the city awaits Ukraine.