What Russia's Kherson retreat means for Putin's war in Ukraine

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  3 weeks ago  •  26 comments

By:   Patrick Smith and Henry Austin

What Russia's Kherson retreat means for Putin's war in Ukraine
The Kremlin's order for Russian troops to retreat from Kherson is a humiliating blow to President Vladimir Putin that could be a crucial moment for Ukraine.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



The Kremlin ordering its troops to retreat from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and much of its surrounding region may be one of the biggest setbacks yet for Russian President Vladimir Putin's war.

Wary Ukrainian officials have greeted the news with caution, rather than celebration, warning that Russian forces plan to turn it into a "city of death" filled with mines and bombarded by artillery fire.

But signs pointed to a humiliating exit rather than a trap — with Moscow's military saying Thursday that a withdrawal had begun, and Kyiv's troops advanced in its wake.

After more than nine months, the conflict has seen 100,000 troops killed or injured on each side, according to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told an event in New York on Wednesday that he believed a Russian retreat was indeed underway.

Ukraine retaking the prized port city could mark a decisive moment, Western officials and military analysts said.

Here's what to know about one of the most important developments of the war so far.

Why is Russia retreating?


Moscow's defense ministry said Thursday that "the maneuver of Russian troops to the prepared positions" on the other side of the Dnieper River was underway "in strict accordance with the approved plan."

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, announced the move a day earlier in a televised address that followed weeks of hints it may be necessary to pull back to more defensible lines in the face of a grinding counteroffensive.

Ukrainian artillery fire in the Kherson region has helped hamper Russian supplies.Stanislav Kozliuk / EPA via Shutterstock

Holding the city had become almost impossible, analysts say.

"Because Ukraine has fire control over the main bridges that cross the left bank onto the right bank of the Dnieper River, it would be very difficult to supply some 3,000 soldiers, especially with winter coming along," said Rajan Menon, a director at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

Despite the caution in Ukraine, the commander in chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said Thursday it was clear that his military's success had forced Russian troops back by destroying their supply routes.

"The enemy was left with no other option than to flee," he said in a post on Telegram.

tm-kher-dam-n4ysrl.jpg

Damage seen in Ukraine village after Russian troops withdraw


Analysts and local Kremlin-installed officials had suggested a retreat was inevitable for weeks, so why now?

"I found it interesting they waited until after the election to make that judgment, which we knew for some time that they were going to be doing," President Joe Biden told a post-midterms news conference at the White House on Wednesday, adding that "it's evidence of the fact that they have some real problems, the Russian military."

His theory was supported by one of the Kremlin's chief propagandists.

On his popular talk show on Russian state TV on Wednesday, the prominent commentator Vladimir Solovyov said that if "we would have left before the 8th, it would help the Democrats in the election, it would have been a gift to Biden."

What happens now?


Ukrainian forces were already sweeping forward Thursday into previously occupied territory, despite Kyiv's public caution.

It was unclear whether they would immediately seek to enter the city, which had a prewar population of about 380,000 but has seen masses of civilians evacuated by Russian authorities in recent weeks.

221110-kherson-ukrainian-soldiers-mb-1004-9278e1.jpg Ukrainian soldiers have been pressing a counteroffensive for weeks in the south, seeking to retake crucial land before the winter. Stanislav Kozliuk / EPA via Shutterstock

At least in the short term, analysts said, the retreat makes sense.

"The Russian military has been increasingly isolated on the right bank of the Dnieper," said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at Le Beck, a security consultancy, "making it difficult to hold positions despite the arrival of newly mobilized soldiers."

"The Dnieper does offer a natural barrier that can be more easily defended. The Russians have also been working on setting up defenses on the other side of the Dnieper for several weeks now."

But Ukraine continues to enjoy robust Western support — likely boosted by better-than-expected results for Democrats in this week's midterms — and Putin's options appear limited.

"On a military front, the Russians are in a situation that Putin never expected to find himself, and I don't think he has a good plan or way forward," Menon said.

"The only real strategy Russia has is to increase its attacks against the Ukrainian homefront, which has been Moscow's main coping mechanism so far," Horowitz said. "Russia is effectively digging its heels, hoping to inflict a cost upon Ukrainian civilians, after failing to defeat the Ukrainian army."

How is this being seen in Russia?


The move is unlikely to be seen favorably in Russia, where criticism of the war has been growing and where Kherson had only recently been portrayed as joining the nation forever.

"This is going to be a difficult decision to sell at home, particularly after Putin effectively doubled down by annexing all of the occupied territories Moscow managed to capture in Ukraine," Horowitz said.

He added that it was notable that the retreat was announced by Surovikin and not Putin, likely a deliberate tactic to protect the president from criticism.

Many Russian commentators and propagandists called the retreat a necessary and realistic step to maintain the goals of the "special military operation" and avoid an even more humiliating defeat.

On his talk show, Solovyov summed up the opinion of many pro-Russian voices, including some influential military bloggers, by describing it as a "courageous" and "difficult" decision.

Not everyone approved, however. Sergei Markov, a commentator and a former adviser to Putin, said: "The surrender of Kherson is the largest geopolitical defeat of Russia since the collapse of the USSR. The political consequences of this huge defeat will be really big,"

Writing on his Telegram channel Wednesday, he blamed the retreat on a "catastrophic delay in making the necessary decisions."

Abandoned Russian equipment and vehicles have been strewn across once-occupied areas as the Kremlin's troops retreat in a hurry.Celestino Arce / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Will this change the course of the war?


Some of Russia's early gains are now seemingly being sacrificed so it can keep hold of as much land as its military can protect.

Kherson was the only regional capital city seized and controlled by Russia since its full-scale invasion Feb. 24. Its capture helped ensure access to the coast and allowed the Kremlin to create a land corridor across Ukraine's south.

Kherson also acts as a vital gateway to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014.

Russia still holds much of the wider Kherson region, which Putin illegally proclaimed he was annexing along with three other regions recently, but it will need to defend its new positions steadfastly to retain that crucial supply route.

"The tactical advantages are clear: moving toward a more easily defended line and avoiding a costly defeat," Horowitz said.

"But so are the strategic consequences for Russia, as Moscow increasingly loses the initiative, and the leverage it needs to force a diplomatic settlement — which I think is Russia's last remaining option to salvage its "special operation."

In his comments Wednesday at the Economic Club of New York, Milley said it's possible Russia will use the retreat to reset its troops for a spring offensive, but "there's also an opportunity here, a window of opportunity for negotiation."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week appeared to soften his stance on never negotiating with Putin. Some U.S. and Western officials increasingly feel neither side can achieve an outright victory and see the winter as a shot at diplomacy.

zencoy-o0qoke.jpg

Ukraine's Zelenskyy stays tight-lipped on Kherson counteroffensive


Beyond the strategic implications, the psychological effect of the retreat on both sides may be almost as important.

"There's ample evidence of low morale among Russian units, including recently mobilized soldiers who have been left without any supply," Horowitz said. "A withdrawal (even a planned one) certainly won't help, and will continue to galvanize Ukrainian soldiers, who can feel victory is now within reach."

It may also serve as a much-needed morale boost for the Ukrainian public.

"It comes at a time when the lights are out in Kyiv and Russia is hitting power plants, pumping stations and sewage works, and people are really living in a way that they haven't before," Menon said.

"So it's a fillip at a time when the Ukrainians could use some good news."


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Just Jim NC TttH
PhD Principal
1  Just Jim NC TttH    3 weeks ago

Awesome beginning of the end hopefully!

 
 
 
evilgenius
Professor Guide
1.1  evilgenius  replied to  Just Jim NC TttH @1    3 weeks ago

This is definitely a good thing, but at the same time I think the Russians will just keep hammering Ukrainian infrastructure from a distance all winter. It will be a long cold winter in Ukraine and it will take a toll on those civilians left to fend for themselves. 

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
1.1.1  al Jizzerror  replied to  evilgenius @1.1    3 weeks ago
the Russians will just keep hammering Ukrainian infrastructure from a distance all winter.

Hitler kept hammering the Brits from a distance butt it merely strengthened their resolve.

The Ukrainians won't fold either.

 
 
 
evilgenius
Professor Guide
1.1.2  evilgenius  replied to  al Jizzerror @1.1.1    3 weeks ago
The Ukrainians won't fold either.

I don't expect them to. I am hoping someone steps up and starts bringing in generators and help get heat and electricity to those struggling to survive. 

 
 
 
Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
1.1.3  Thrawn 31  replied to  evilgenius @1.1    2 weeks ago

The Russians will keep doing it because apparently they are incapable of learning from history. WW2 showed that targeting civilians does not win wars, if anything it makes those people and countries even more determined. They will continue to waste their dwindling resources on a strategy that will absolutely fail, and will lead to more casualties in the field.

The Russian incompetence in this war is truly breathtaking.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2  Kavika     3 weeks ago

As Ukraine's army moves forward the partisan movement has inflicted major damage for months on the Russians.

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
3  al Jizzerror    3 weeks ago

"I found it interesting they waited until after the election to make that judgment, which we knew for some time that they were going to be doing," President Joe Biden told a post-midterms news conference at the White House on Wednesday, adding that "it's evidence of the fact that they have some real problems, the Russian military."

His theory was supported by one of the Kremlin's chief propagandists.

On his popular talk show on Russian state TV on Wednesday, the prominent commentator Vladimir Solovyov said that if "we would have left before the 8th, it would help the Democrats in the election, it would have been a gift to Biden."

It's interesting to note that the Russians postponed their retreat based upon the midterm elections in the US.  Their timing was designed to help the Republicans.

 

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Professor Guide
3.1  Greg Jones  replied to  al Jizzerror @3    3 weeks ago

How so?

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
3.1.1  al Jizzerror  replied to  Greg Jones @3.1    2 weeks ago
How so?
В своем популярном ток-шоу на российском государственном телевидении в среду известный комментатор Владимир Соловьев сказал, что если бы «мы ушли до 8 числа, это помогло бы демократам на выборах, это было бы подарком Байдену».
V svoyem populyarnom tok-shou na rossiyskom gosudarstvennom televidenii v sredu izvestnyy kommentator Vladimir Solov'yev skazal, chto yesli by «my ushli do 8 chisla, eto pomoglo by demokratam na vyborakh, eto bylo by podarkom Baydenu».
 
 
 
al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
3.1.2  al Jizzerror  replied to  Greg Jones @3.1    2 weeks ago
How so
V svoyem populyarnom tok-shou na rossiyskom gosudarstvennom televidenii v sredu izvestnyy
kommentator Vladimir Solov'yev skazal, chto yesli by «my ushli do 8 chisla, eto pomoglo by
demokratam na vyborakh, eto bylo by podarkom Baydenu».

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1.3  Kavika   replied to  al Jizzerror @3.1.1    2 weeks ago

Hvala vam puno. (thank you very much)



                            
 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2  Texan1211  replied to  al Jizzerror @3    2 weeks ago
It's interesting to note that the Russians postponed their retreat based upon the midterm elections in the US.  Their timing was designed to help the Republicans.  

Please let us never again be subjected to Democratic, left-wing bitching about absurd conspiracy theories.

SMMFH at such sheer idiocy.

 
 
 
al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
3.2.1  al Jizzerror  replied to  Texan1211 @3.2    2 weeks ago
Democratic, left-wing bitching about absurd conspiracy theories.

That's not a democratic "conspiracy theory; it's a claim from Russian media.

From this seed:

On his popular talk show on Russian state TV on Wednesday, the
prominent commentator Vladimir Solovyov said
that if "we would have left before the 8th,
it would help the Democrats in the election,
it would have been a gift to Biden."

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
3.2.2  devangelical  replied to  al Jizzerror @3.2.1    2 weeks ago

... as if he read the article.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2.3  Texan1211  replied to  al Jizzerror @3.2.1    2 weeks ago

[Deleted]

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2.4  Texan1211  replied to  devangelical @3.2.2    2 weeks ago
[deleted]
 
 
 
al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
3.2.5  al Jizzerror  replied to  Texan1211 @3.2.3    2 weeks ago
you get most of your "news" from late night idiots masquerading as comedians and believe them too.

The quotation I provided comes from THIS SEED.

Apparently, as usual, you are trolling the discussion without having bothered to read the article.

Fuck off.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2.6  Texan1211  replied to  al Jizzerror @3.2.5    2 weeks ago
The quotation I provided comes from THIS SEED.

Well, duh.

You believe a Russian commentator. Good job swallowing propaganda.

Apparently, as usual, you are trolling the discussion without having bothered to read the article.

What is 'apparent' to you is mud to anyone reading this crap from you.

Fuck off.

No, don't think I'll be doing that.

Maybe try tomorrow.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2.7  Texan1211  replied to  Texan1211 @3.2.4    2 weeks ago

[Deleted]

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Principal
4  Nerm_L    2 weeks ago

Ultimately the Russian retreat from Kherson strengthens the political position of hardliners in the Russian government.  We saw the same thing happen in the United States during the Russian offensive against Mariupol.  Militarily the Russian retreat doesn't mean very much and, if anything, is a harbinger for a difficult winter.  Russia has been withdrawing from Kherson for several weeks so this only marks the final stage of that withdrawal.  Yes, Russia is retreating from Kherson but it has been a slow motion retreat.  And the long term planning for that retreat doesn't suggest that Ukrainian troops have taken the initiative.  

The idea that a Russian retreat from Kherson would influence the midterm elections seems rather nonsensical.  The military conduct of the war in Ukraine is only on the radar of hardliners in the United States.  For most people, escalating the war in Ukraine isn't that important and would be viewed as a mistake.  Biden has been waiting for the midterms before requesting another large tranche of aid (on the order of $60 billion according to reports).  A Russian retreat now would seem to weaken Biden's justification for such a large amount of aid.  

 
 
 
afrayedknot
Freshman Quiet
4.1  afrayedknot  replied to  Nerm_L @4    2 weeks ago

“A Russian retreat now would seem to weaken Biden's justification for such a large amount of aid.”

Just the opposite.

The aid has obviously helped a much smaller, much weaker country stand up to a deranged oligarch bent on acquisition of territory he has absolutely no right to. 

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Principal
4.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  afrayedknot @4.1    2 weeks ago
The aid has obviously helped a much smaller, much weaker country stand up to a deranged oligarch bent on acquisition of territory he has absolutely no right to. 

At the cost of 200,000 casualties and widespread destruction within Ukraine.  As long as the killing and destruction stays within Ukraine then the United States and NATO are content.  

Politically the war in Ukraine can be summed up as "the Soviets are killing each other, let them".  Ukraine is only a proxy for the United States and NATO.

 
 
 
Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
4.1.2  Thrawn 31  replied to  Nerm_L @4.1.1    2 weeks ago

Apparently the Ukrainians would rathe incur the losses they have than live under Russian rule, that is a choice for them to make. 

Secondly this is not “soviets fighting Soviets” as you do stupidly described it. The Ukrainians have been loving for closer ties to the west for years now, and the Russians invaded to stop that from happening. This is a fledgling democracy fighting for its survival against an authoritarian invader. The US and NATO are supporting the Ukrainians out of principle as well as the practical benefits of having more and more friendly governments in Europe rather than allowing our biggest adversary to increase their influence in the region.

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
4.2  JBB  replied to  Nerm_L @4    2 weeks ago

Biden's leadership regarding Russia and Ukraine has been widely praised and is credited for NATO being united against Putin!

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Principal
4.2.1  Nerm_L  replied to  JBB @4.2    2 weeks ago
Biden's leadership regarding Russia and Ukraine has been widely praised and is credited for NATO being united against Putin!

Biden's leadership has been praised for keeping the United States and NATO out of the war.  Biden has successfully established Ukraine as an isolated proxy.  And American taxpayers have paid for NATO unity.  NATO unity has only been about the money. 

 
 
 
Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
4.2.2  Thrawn 31  replied to  Nerm_L @4.2.1    2 weeks ago

Ukraine is the exact opposite of isolated. Russia has become a pariah and been exposed as the paper tiger it is. 

 
 

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