STORY: In what would be a major defeat for Russia in its war against Ukraine… officials are now saying that Ukrainian forces are capable of retaking the strategic southern city of Kherson from Russian troops..
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on Thursday:
“Most importantly, the Ukrainians believe that they have the capability to do that. We've seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to take back their sovereign territory.”
Austin's remarks coincided with a Russian-installed official in the Kherson region saying that Moscow was likely to pull its troops from the west bank of the Dnipro River – which, if confirmed, would signal a significant retreat for Moscow.
The region's capital and river port is the only big city Russia has captured intact since its invasion began in late February.
But Ukraine said it was still fighting in the area and was wary that Russian forces were setting a trap by pretending to pull out.
Previously, Russia had vehemently denied it was planning to withdraw from the region, which President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed to Russia at the end of September.
Meanwhile… in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian servicemen fired rockets at multiple Russian positions.
Kharkiv in recent days has been hit by Russian missile and drone strikes, targeting infrastructure and causing blackouts.
And in the capital of Kyiv, two U.S. senators - Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Rob Portman – vowed that bipartisan support from the U.S. would continue for Ukraine after next week's mid-term elections.
[COONS]: “The United States has long been a nation that fights for freedom. And this is the most important fight for freedom in the world today.”
The visit comes amid speculation that the Republicans, seen as favorites to take control of at least the House of Representatives, could dampen U.S. support for Ukraine – something Portman appeared to refute.
“Clearly, what is going on here in Ukraine is something that Republicans are to focus on because it is in our national security interest.... [FLASH] Think of the consequences if Vladimir Putin is allowed to succeed.”