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Analysis

Russia Kherson Withdrawal: Accepting Defeat or Tactical Retreat?

Saturday 12 November 2022
Russia Kherson Withdrawal: Accepting Defeat or Tactical Retreat?

Alwaght- A month after a referendum that led to annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including Kherson, the Russian officials have made a new decision. They are withdrawing their forces from the eastern coast of Dnieper River, including Kherson. 

Russian defense minister on Wednesday explained that this strategy is adopted to prevent casualties among Russian forces and would save the lives of the citizens in the province. General Sergey Vladimirovich Surovikin, the commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine, in remarks to the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu pointed to the Ukrainian attacks on the civilians, saying that “if the Kiev regime launches a more devastating attack on the Kakhovka dam, there would be floods, inundating large areas and causing significant civilian casualties.” He added that withdrawal would help prevent the worst-case scenario as well as keep forces in the region safe. 
The commander of Russian forces said that the most suitable option for action in the region is a special military operation to build defense along the Dnieper barrier line.

“We will save the lives of soldiers and the combat capacity of our units. Keeping them on the west coast is pointless,” he was quoted as saying. 

Russian sources said that Shoigu ordered this Russian general to arrange the safe relocation of soldiers and civilians. 

Dnieper is a river that originates from Russian and reaches the Red Sea after crossing Belarus and Ukraine. It is the longest river of Ukraine and the fourth longest river in Europe. Kakhovka dam is on the river and stores large amounts of water. If it collapses, many lives in Kherson could be taken. In recent days, the Ukrainian forces launched missiles on the dam, risking its demolition. 

The Ukrainian officials have reacted cautiously to the order for Russian army withdrawal from Kherson. It seems that Kiev believes that exit of the Russian forces is a tactical action and part of Russia's military plan in the fight against the Ukrainian forces. In the meantime, Western countries and some Ukrainian officials view the withdrawal as a big defeat for the Russian President Vladimir Putin and a big victory for Kiev. 

Russian show of good will for resumption of negotiations
Perhaps, the West believes that Russia has been weakened militarily and economically after nine months of war, and the withdrawal from Kherson was driven by this reason, but the Russians have shown in the massive attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in recent weeks that their arsenals are sufficient to continue the conflict for a long time. Putin and other Kremlin officials do not want to see more casualties, and the evacuation from Kherson is a type of tactical retreat. Also, while the leaders of Moscow have announced in recent weeks that they are ready to sit at the negotiating table with Ukraine, now Russian media describe the withdrawal as a sign of Moscow's good will to end the war. Two months ago, Russia also announced the mobilization of 300,000 of its reserve forces, and a large part of these forces are to be deployed in the eastern regions of Ukraine, which are controlled by the Russians. Even among Western states there is no common assessment of military weakness of Russian forces and shortage of weapons. 

In the middle of the war, Russia changed its primary and main goals towards control of the eastern regions of Ukraine, especially the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose people of Russian origin have sought to join Russian Federation since 2014. This aim has already been achieved by holding a referendum and annexing these regions to Russian territory, and therefore it should be said that Moscow achieved its goals and even advanced beyond them in the Ukrainian territory.

Moscow's show of tendency to return to the negotiating table comes while in recent days reports suggested that American officials have sent a message to Kiev asking it to entertain Russia's proposal to resume peace talks. Although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has tied the resumption of dialogue to return of all the annexed territories, Washington officials believe that the Ukrainians do not have the ability to retake the lost territories and should back off on some of their demands and settle for the minimum. Recently, President Emmanuel Macron of France in his speech threw the ball in Ukraine's court to decide sooner if it wants to continue the war or negotiate a peace plan. Europeans are worried as they face a serious energy crisis because of their comprehensive support for Ukraine, and do not consider longer conflict serving their economies. 

Tactical move to strengthen other fronts 
Due to Kherson proximity to the Crimean Peninsula, this province is strategically important for the Russians, and they are trying to establish themselves in its eastern part and boost their forces for possible future advances. 

A Western military expert believes that If Russia can withdraw its units from Kherson without heavy casualties, it will probably be in a stronger position to maintain its existing front lines, as it can move these forces more easily to tighten its grip on the Donbass and Zaporizhzhi regions. 

Russia can use its Kherson-based forces for amassment in other fronts in a boost campaign. Dontesk and Luhansk are of great importance to the Russians and it takes more forces to save them. Forces evacuated from Kherson can help considerably. 

Also, it should be taken into consideration that the deployment away from the national forces complicates the force movement and support. Due to the arrival of the winter which means severe cold, the costs would be high for Moscow. Like other cities in Ukraine, many of infrastructures have been destroyed in Kherson. Therefore, in winter it will be difficult to supply energy and power to heat the homes and therefore the Russians have left Kherson to reduce their costs and incur less casualties due to the severe cold of winter. 

Given Kiev’s push to take back Kherson at any expense, the civilian casualties could rise. Raging clashes along with cold and food shortage can cause a humanitarian tragedy in this region, and Moscow leaders seem to have shown sufficient tact to put the humanitarian issues over saving the land. 

 

Tags :

Russia Kherson Withdrawal Ukraine Casualties Putin

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