Russia’s retreat from Kherson sets the stage for more intense fighting


U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia’s expected withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson has opened the door for Ukraine to make more progress on the battlefield, but as winter approaches, both sides are beefing up combat forces with more weapons and ammunition, in addition to Significant progress beyond that is unlikely to come soon and personnel.

The assessment comes amid signs that Moscow’s forces are following an order by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday to retreat southeast across the Dnieper River to protect their forces. Roman Kostenko, a Ukrainian army colonel and member of parliament, said the decision made it possible for Ukrainian troops to enter the city – which was home to nearly 300,000 people before Russia’s invasion in February – within days.

“We saw all these signs – the bridge was blown up, leaving the village, heading for the Dnieper,” Kostenko said. “We saw they were retreating.”

The moves disrupted the already chaotic picture of the battlefield after nine months of fighting. Some officials in Kyiv questioned whether the Russian announcement was a trap designed to attract Ukrainian troops. It was unclear on Wednesday whether some Russian troops would be trapped on the west side of the river, depending on how fast Ukrainian troops were advancing.

US says ‘more than’ 100,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded in Ukraine

U.S. officials assess that Moscow’s decision was made to avoid a repeat of their chaotic, bloody defeat in the Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian troops broke through the Russian front in September, seizing hundreds of square miles and a large number of hastily abandoned. Russian military equipment. This time, Russia’s retreat appears to be strategic—actively retreating to a safer location and preparing for future battles.

“The Russians realized that, rather than being occupied by the Ukrainians and suffering huge losses, it would be better to withdraw their troops early,” said retired U.S. Navy admiral and former NATO allied supreme commander Jim Stavridis. The city wasn’t going to stop before — nor should they. It has enormous geographic, military and psychological value.”

To retake Kherson, Ukraine raised its blue-and-yellow flag over the city captured by Russian troops in March, in what will mark the latest setback for the Kremlin’s main battleground in Ukraine. Hawkish Russian military bloggers lamented the retreat, calling it a betrayal.

Stavridis predicts that Ukraine may seize the “windfall” of military equipment left by Russia and may uncover more evidence of Russian war crimes, “including that they have become part of rape, torture, detention and mass Murder modus operandi”.

In the Nikolayev region northwest of Kherson, Ukrainian military doctor Ivan Malenkyi said on Wednesday that his troops were already clearing mines laid there by Russian troops, which could be a sign of a new disaster in Kherson. Waiting for the situation of the Ukrainian army.

“Right now we don’t understand what is the front line, the second line, or whatever,” said Malenki. “We only know that they left. Where they went and what was left is unclear.”

What to know about the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city of Kherson

Between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops remain on the west bank of the river and it will take some time for them to evacuate, U.S. Army Generals Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley said late Tuesday. But he also saw “first signs” that the retreat was underway, he said.

“It’s not going to take them a day or two,” Milley said at an event for the Economic Club of New York. “It’s going to take them days or even weeks to get these troops south of that river.”

Ukrainian troops have been slowly advancing towards Kherson for weeks, targeting ammunition centers, command posts and supply facilities in the region, and putting pressure on Russian forces, Yuriy Sak, an adviser to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said. .

“It’s literally no longer possible for them to stay in Kherson because they can’t supply their army with ammunition, supplies,” Sack said in an interview. “It’s impossible for them to continue fighting.”

Despite a flood of troops posting social media videos and selfies of retaking the village, Ukrainian military commanders were reluctant to reveal their next move.

“Winter will be a factor,” Sack said. “It could be slower, it could be faster, depending on the weather conditions. But we will not stop. We will continue to counterattack meter by meter, village by village.”

Ukrainian officials said evacuated Russian troops were laying mines and blowing up bridges as they retreated from the city of Kherson, amid fears that some troops may be hiding in the city, waiting to set traps. The advancing Ukrainian soldiers would also be within range of Russian artillery across the river.

But a full retreat from Kherson is now seen as inevitable. Ukrainian troops have targeted Russian supply lines and stifled Moscow’s ability to support front-line forces.

“The Russians could certainly still organize some traps in Kherson, but they never had enough troops or logistics to maintain these right bank positions,” said another adviser to the Ukrainian government, who was not authorized to speak to the media and commented. In this case or anonymously.

Before Shoigu’s announcement, a NATO official said Russian troops were in a “critical state” in Kherson, with only one supply line to the east.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, shared an analysis of how the situation has evolved, saying that while Russian officials have called for the evacuation of civilians from the city and the pulling of more experienced troops eastward across the river, the recently mobilized troops have already moved in. City, the total number of Russian troops remained unchanged. NATO officials did not understand why the Russian military made the decision, the official said.

But just as the Dnieper provided obstacles for the Russians to supply troops, Ukraine is not expected to push Crimea east and south easily from there. Instead, outside observers and Ukrainian officials say Kyiv is likely to focus on cutting off remaining Russian supply lines from the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and then moved troops to other occupied territories superior.

“We don’t have a geographic opportunity to liberate Crimea anytime soon,” the second Ukrainian adviser said. “We need to liberate the whole of southern Ukraine first, and we won’t do that from the right bank of the river. We now have a left bank theatre where all the activities will take place.”

Retired Australian general Mick Ryan, who has been closely watching the war, said the crossing of the Dnieper by Ukrainian troops would be a major operation, and if they did, Russian troops would inflict heavy casualties on them.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon,” said Ryan, who visited Ukrainian officials in Kyiv last month. “The Ukrainians may look to other axes of advancement to clear the south.”

Ryan said Ukraine’s retake of Kherson would not change its goal of retaking Crimea, but “one step closer”. He said the rest of the Kherson region and neighboring Zaporozhye in the east must be captured first.

“This will be a methodical, well-thought-out series of battles and campaigns in the south, culminating in the Crimea campaign,” Ryan said.

Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army European Command, also predicted that Ukrainian commanders could soon launch an offensive on Zaporozhye, which has a nuclear power plant occupied by Russian forces. Disrupting power supplies ahead of a harsh winter has been a key strategy for Moscow, and taking back control may be a priority, Hodges said.

Hodges said there were reports that Russian commanders had replaced battle-hardened troops with newly mobilized soldiers from the South as Moscow strengthened its defenses beyond the river. He said that while forcing Ukraine to advance across the river makes tactical sense, it may be difficult for well-trained and poorly equipped conscripts to do so.

Hodges predicted that Ukraine could retake Crimea by the end of next summer. But he said the task would be easier with the long-range artillery that the U.S. has so far seized from Ukraine.

Hodges said the United States provided rockets with a range of about 50 miles, which kept Crimea still far from Kherson. For months, Kyiv has been asking the U.S. for a rocket with a range of nearly 200 miles, called the Army Tactical Missile System, that can reach Russian military targets on the peninsula, but the Biden administration has refused to send it, arguing it’s an escalation that could anger Moscow.

The winter months can present additional difficulties on the battlefield.

If temperatures drop and war becomes more of a test of stamina and will, troops with personnel and morale problems may see those problems get worse.

“I don’t want to be a Russian soldier sitting in the trenches in southern Ukraine,” Hodges said. “This is another example of them trading their bodies for time.”

Rob Lee, a Russian military expert and senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, said poorly disciplined soldiers could struggle to endure frozen sentry missions, which left Ukrainian forces with exploitable security holes.

Another challenge for both sides will be to limit the extent to which the cold has exposed their positions. The heat generated by vehicles and people can be detected by infrared telescopes that soldiers hold and are mounted on some drones and vehicles.

Overhead concealment is also reduced in winter, with leafless trees providing little shade. Even generators hidden in trenches emit heat, which will help identify shelling targets, Lee said.

Meanwhile, Russian mercenaries have constructed elaborate trench lines lined with concrete anti-tank pyramid barriers known as “Dragon’s Teeth” in southern Ukraine. The move could be a PR stunt or a hard lesson learned from Kharkiv, where Ukrainian troops crushed undefended Russian defenses, Lee said.

Either way, the front lines are likely to harden again by the river as Russian and Ukrainian armies throw cannons and mortars at each other in the icy winter of human misery.

Reporting by Sly from Kyiv and Miller from the Mykolaiv region.

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