Russia Says They Have Left Kherson

According to The Hill, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Friday that they had completed their withdrawal of forces from Kherson, Ukraine. In a report available on their Telegram page, the Ministry wrote, “In Kherson direction, today, at 05.00 am (Moscow time), units of the Russian forces finished their redeployment to the left bank of Dnepr river.” You have to admire their wordsmithing; they didn’t withdraw, per se; they simply deployed elsewhere.

When I was a young cadet, cadre taught us that we (US forces) never retreat, but sometimes we have to conduct “retrograde operations.” Regardless of what you call it, the Russians left the area, which is seen by many as a victory for Ukrainian forces, who are slowly taking back their nation.

A Russian soldier guides vehicles over a temporary bridge as they “redeploy” troops away from territory they have previously held. Screenshot from YouTube and ABC News.

Geographical Significance

Kherson Oblast is significant because it is a physical link to the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. Kherson City is the only regional Ukrainian Russian forces have been able to capture. Being forced to leave the region has widely been described in the press as “humiliating” to President Putin, as it is yet another sign that his “special military operation” is falling apart. Still, Ukrainian forces remain vigilant, keeping in mind the retreat could possibly be a tactic to force them to fight in another area.

Mr. George Beebe, Director of Grand Strategy at the Quincy Institute, was recently interviewed by CBS News. He is the author of the depressing yet realistically titled book, “The Russia Trap: How our Shadow War with Russia Could Spiral Into Nuclear Catastrophe.” Bebe was asked about the geographical importance of Kherson. To this, he replied,

“Well, for the Ukrainians, Kherson is the gateway for a possible effort to retake Crimea. And for the Russians, Kherson is the gateway for a possible gateway to an effort to take the southern Ukrainian coast…the key port cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa.” 

This means that if Russia has genuinely lost control over Kherson, it will most likely prevent them from advancing on the Black Sea port cities mentioned above. Also, it could make Crimea more vulnerable to a potential Ukrainian offensive if the Ukrainians decide to go that route.

According to CBS News, the Kremlin had admitted that it was impossible to resupply the city and that “defending it would be futile.” Beebe notes that Kherson was the only city that Russia had taken on the western side of the Dnipro river. As we have reported earlier, the Ukrainians have destroyed the bridges connecting the Russians on the west bank to their comrades on the eastern side, effectively isolating them.

The aftermath of a Russian missile attack on the city of Mykolaiv earlier this year. Screenshot from YouTube and DW News.

Frustration and Retaliation

In an apparent display of force and frustration, the Kremlin today ordered a missile strike today on civilian residential areas in the city of Mykolaiv. A Reuters reporter in the area heard three large explosions, beginning at 3:00 am local time. Emergency workers quickly scrambled to the scene of the destruction. Ukrinform, a Ukrainian multimedia broadcasting platform, quotes the head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, Vitaliy Kim, as saying, “Unfortunately, there are already seven dead in the five-story building.” The upper four stories had collapsed onto the first due to the blast.

Further Assessment

The Institute for the Study of War, ISW, reports that Ukrainian military officials have been able to confirm gains their troops have made in Kherson in the past 24 hours, in some cases pushing the enemy east as much as 7 km. They note that the Russian forces seem to be leaving on their own accord, with little military force being required to oust them. The ongoing strikes on Russian command and control and resupply targets have proven effective, and ISW predicts that Kherson can be called liberated in the upcoming days or weeks. Practicality dictates that all Russian troops can’t leave immediately, as they lack the transportation resources to do so. Limited engagements with enemy troops are to be expected as fortified, pre-positioned Russian fighting positions remain and will likely be the last to be vacated.

Looking ahead to winter months, ISW does not believe that fighting will stop or slow down appreciably due to the coming frigid weather conditions. They note some western media outlets have broadcast this faulty assumption. They continue that some military equipment may need to be modified for colder weather, but this should not have much of an effect on the advancement of forces on either side.