We Told You So
Five days ago, we reported that Russia was abandoning Kherson in Ukraine and withdrawing its troops to the East bank of the Dnipro river to prevent being cut off and annihilated by the armed force of Ukraine.
On November 9th, Russian General of the Army Sergey Surovikin met with the Russian army staff in a heavily scripted and staged briefing where Gen. Surovikin gives a glowing assessment of their successes on the front but then walks it back recommending a “maneuver” to the West bank of the Dnipro river, saying that it was necessary to ensure the safety of civilians and to preserve the lives of their troops in Kherson. A video of this briefing with a decent translation into English is found below. They only seem to confuse the banks of the river as left and right rather than East and West.
This video is obviously for the consumption of a Russian audience with its talk about wanting to save the lives of Russian troops(this will be news to them), while claiming to have inflicted catastrophic losses on Ukraine, including 12,000 dead, numerous planes and helicopters destroyed, 6 anti-aircraft systems destroyed, 800 vehicles including 23 combat vehicles and MLRS systems. He claims that all the attacks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been repelled. Of course, this flies in the face of the plain fact that the defeated Ukrainian army is pushing Russia out of its territory almost everywhere.
Defence Minister Shoigu then interrupts him to say that recently mobilized reservists should remain in the rear and train with those with combat experience before being sent to the front and then only if they have the right military occupational skills.
This comes in the midst of widespread reports from Russian draftees claiming(not without evidence) that they are ill-equipped, ill-fed and being rushed to the front.
Surovikin replies with a simple “Yes.”
Surovikin goes on to say that while they have repelled every Ukrainian attack and have shot down most of the missiles fired at them, they are unable to supply the city or its outlying suburbs and must evacuate across the river to new defensive positions that have already been prepared. He states the reason in part is that Ukraine is attacking the Kahovska dam with the intent to flood the lower plane leading to a power plant.
Back on October 20th, Ukrainian president Zelensky accused Russia of mining the locks of the dam with the intention of flooding Kherson and the surrounding areas. It would also leave the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant without cooling water and would cut off the entire Crimea from fresh water for drinking and irrigation. It’s all but unimaginable that Ukraine would blow up the dam given the success of the offensive in driving Russia out of its territory and the huge problems it would create for Ukraine in trying to later rebuild it. The flooding would also make it much harder for Ukraine to continue its drive into Crimea. They are winning currently without having to resort to such drastic measures. This is the kind of thing a defeated army does in retreat, not one on the march and winning. The German army did this in Italy in WWII, flooding the Pontine marshes(first drained by the Romans) in advance of US troops in 1943, which resulted in an outbreak of malaria among the population.
General of the Army Surovikin is the new commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine, replacing Colonel General Gennady Zhidko whose career is likely ruined over his handling of the Ukraine invasion. Surovikin was the commander of the Army Group South during the invasion and was previously the chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Hs return to a army group position is a few rungs down the ladder in terms of command responsibility.
Saving Face for Putin
Surovikin being tapped to make this video about withdrawing a decimated and most defeated army to the relative safety of the West bank of the Dnipro river is a face-saving measure for Putin who can’t make such an announcement himself without serious political ramifications. Done this way, it puts any blame on the decision on the army itself, and since Surovikin is new in the position it even shields him from scrutiny and blame by the Russian populace.
This is all being done for the sake of public opinion inside Russia, not for the West. This televised meeting is the way Russia admitting to its own people that things are not going well without directly saying so. Kherson was the only regional capital that Russia managed to occupy in the war, not being able to hold it is a severe blow to Russian prestige, honor and the reputation of its military.
Ukrainian troops will probably reenter Kherson with a great degree of caution at first for several reasons. First, the Russians have had time to place explosives in various locations on timers than may go off days, weeks or even months after they have left. Ukrainian explosive ordnance teams will have to comb the city block by block searching for these delayed action charges.
There are also reports that the city is mostly without water, power, electricity or phone service, as Russian troops cut power lines, busted water mains, and even uprooted fiber optic cables for the phones. Ukraine will have to restore utilities before they can allow civilians to return if at all.
If Ukraine enters the city with troops in force they are likely to get shelled by Russian forces on the other side of the Dnipro river. Russia has had plenty of time to zero in every building and intersection for their rockets and artillery.
Finally, Russia will have left behind both FSB and military intelligence officers(GRU) in Kherson to conduct intelligence and sabotage operations inside the city disguised as civilians.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence has issued the following warning to Russian troops wearing civilian clothes in Kherson;
As expected, after the retreat of the main group of the Russian army from the Ukrainian Kherson, your command left you to the mercy of fate. Your commanders urged you to change into civilian clothes to try and escape from Kherson on your own. Obviously, you won’t be able to.
Kherson remains under the control of Ukraine, units of the armed forces of Ukraine enter the city. The retreat routes of the Russian occupiers are under the fire control of the Ukrainian army. Any attempt to resist the armed forces of Ukraine will be stopped. Every Russian soldier who resists will be destroyed.
You have only this chance to avoid death.
In the video of General Surovikin above Defence Minister Shoigu tell him to do what is necessary because the lives and health of Russian soldiers is always “a priority.”
Russian commanders telling their soldiers to dress in civilian clothes and attempt to escape Kherson is hardly looking out for their “health and safety.” Under the Geneva Accords, a soldier captured while disguised as a civilian is not entitled to the protections afforded to a prisoner of war. In fact, you can be executed for it.