This could all be tentative information as of yet, but I have strong reason to believe that Russia has now withdrawn from Kherson city. Without a fight. I think this is big enough news to warrant a post.
General Surovikin, the commander of the Russian army in Ukraine, suggested that this was a decision he was contemplating a month or so ago. Kherson possesses some strategic significance, but its principal importance to Russia has been is its political/motivational value. It is the largest major city Russia has managed to capture in Ukraine outside of the Donbass region. Ukraine has been repeatedly attempting to break through to Kherson for months now, practically to no avail. Ukraine’s so called ‘Kherson offensive’, launched at the beginning of September, over two months ago now, and has thus far yielded practically no ground other than a handful of villages adjacent the Dneiper river. The Russians have been sending mixed signals about Kherson for about a month now; they evacuated the city of its civlians, and even its zoo. This has also corresponded with the partial evacuation, allegedly, of Nikolaev, the Ukrainian occupied counter-part to Kherson that Russia was also threatening.
But this evening (our evening), practically without warning, multiple signals started emerging that Russia was withdrawing from Kherson entirely. At first I thought this could have been Telegram/Twitter noise; but after all, Ukraine has allegedly launched another major offensive in the area, which started yesterday. According to preliminary reports this offensive assumed the trajectory it always does; Ukrainian units get swatted by artillery and the Russian Air Force, and fail to make much progress at all. But today there has been an eerie silence; little to no fighting is going on, but Ukraine is now entering villages adjacent Kherson uncontested. Clearly, there has been a withdrawal by the Russian army from the now (civliian abandoned ) Kherson city to the other bank of the Dneiper river, the waterway in which Kherson city sits. It simply looks like Russia has let Ukraine have Kherson city back, presumably and hopefully ‘for now’, for reasons I do not completely understand. Even if it is an unnocupied husk of a city, it has significant political value.
Multiple theories on Twitter/Telegram have emerged already, only in the last couple of hours, to explain what is going on. I can’t vouch even for what’s going on so far, nor for any of these theories, but here is the jist of some of them:
1 Russia has brokered some sort of peace agreement / negotiation with Ukraine, and is letting Ukraine have Kherson back
2 Russia’s mobilised forces are still not meaningfully in theatre yet (true), and Russia does not want to engage in heavy battles with a still numerically superior force where it would risk self-asssessed tactical losses
3 Supplying Kherson city across the Dneiper is too difficult at the moment given Ukrainian artillery range. Russia has also allegedly built significant fortifications on the other bank of the Dneiper river, which will be easier to supply/defend while the mobilised arrive. Photographic evidence of this has already been presented on Twitter, whether real or not: https://twitter.com/COUPSURE/status/1588924419002740736
4 The commanders of Russia’s army is simply too casualty averse and does not want to engage in heavy fighting with the Ukrainian army at all, or that there are structural issues with Russia’s army (or perhaps, its’ high command, and the political capacity of the Russian state to provide for the army) that does not bode well for its long term prospects in Ukraine
1 in my opinion is improbable, likely the answer lies between the other 3 points. Long term, I do not think decisions like this, which mirror the withdrawal from Kharkov months ago, bode well for the long term success of this war. It is especially notable in Kherson’s case, because Russia has formally ‘annexed’ the region; if this annexation is to mean anything at all, the army is now legally obligated to get the territory back. Otherwise the annexation is a pure gesture. I have revised my estimates for Russia’s success downwards following this nadir (assuming it is occuring; almost guaranteed now in my opinion given what I am seeing on Telegram etc, but I hope not) in this war. I give them a SUB 50% chance of winning the war, possibly sub 45%. I will not get into the full reasoning for this assessment, but unfortunately I am starting to come to the view Coming has been insisting to me for several weeks now. Hopefully it is wrong, even if it doesn’t really matter.
A Russian loss in Ukraine would be the end of Putin’s regime as we know it, and possibly the current incarnation of the Russian federation, whatever that genuinely represents. Certainly if there is a Kherson withdrawal (may have already happened in the time I have been writing this honestly) there will be severe political recriminations and criticism of Putin in Russia, and justifiably so. The internal response for this move will be even angrier than it was over Kharkov. But I do believe an overall Russian defeat now to be a distinct and reasonable possibility, and will be re-assessing the situation around New Years or afterwards.
Also I think I will be the first Australian ‘journalist’ (lmao) to actually have reported on this in an Aus media source, so go us!!!