Russian forces have been forced out of the southern city of Kherson, gateway to Crimea and the largest city of one of the four Ukrainian territories annexed in September.
Putin’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered his troops out of the city and across the Dnipro River to take up defensive lines.
Russian top brass were filmed on state TV discussing the withdrawal.
In a meeting of senior military officials, General Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s commander in Ukraine, said it was no longer possible to continue supplying the city.
He said: “In these circumstances, the most sensible option is to organise the defence along a barrier line along the river Dnipro.”
Vladimir Putin was not at the event. Instead, he was filmed by state TV speaking to a health chief.
The news follows weeks of Ukrainian advances towards the city, seen as the gateway to Crimea, and a race by Russia to “relocate” tens of thousands of its residents.
Surovikin, who earned the nickname “General Armageddon” due to his brutality in Syria, said that more than 115,000 people have crossed the Dnipro River in recent weeks.