Russia’s military has been ordered to pull out of the Ukrainian city of Kherson, the only regional capital it captured after invading in February.
Russia’s commander in Ukraine, Gen Sergei Surovikin, said it was no longer possible to keep supplying the city.
The withdrawal means Russian forces will pull out entirely from the western bank of the River Dnipro.
It is a significant blow as Russia faces a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The military’s top brass announced the decision on Russian state TV, with Gen. Surovikin reporting on the situation on the ground in Kherson.
President Vladimir Putin did not take part in the staged event. The architect of Russia’s failing war in Ukraine appeared to have left the announcement to his generals.
It was Putin who announced Russia’s annexation of Kherson, and three other occupied regions, at the end of September.
“In these circumstances, the most sensible option is to organise the defence along a barrier line along the river Dnipro,” Gen Surovikin told the meeting.
But its decision to pull back across the Dnipro river was treated with caution by Ukrainian officials.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.
“We see no signs that Russia is leaving Kherson without a fight… [Ukraine] is liberating territories based on intelligence data, not staged TV statements.”
All week, reports and rumours that Russia would leave Kherson have circulated. At a Ukrainian position on the perimeter around Kherson, soldiers said the enemy might be trying to draw them into a trap.
The Ukrainian commander said they had good intelligence, and would only advance cautiously.
After Russia’s announcement, civilians inside Kherson said Chechen troops from the Russian military are in the city, in cafes, and moving around the streets.
Another civilian said: “Visually, nothing has changed. On the right bank [western bank] in Kherson, they are almost invisible, and it has been [like that] for several days. They have already taken everything they could.
“There are a lot of them on the left bank, and they are building fortifications along the Dnipro and Plavni.” (BBC)