Is Russia actually withdrawing? Will Russian President Vladimir Putin hand over to the Ukrainian army Kherson – the only regional capital occupied since February’s invasion? And when the ink on the annexation papers has barely dried?
That’s exactly what happened. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that the withdrawal was complete.
The first cautious reaction from Kyiv shows that the Ukrainians found it difficult to believe, even if they had worked on it for a long time. Since July, the Ukrainian army, with the help of US HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, has systematically attacked and damaged bridges over the country’s largest river, the Dnipro. This made it difficult, if not impossible, to supply the Russian troops on the right bank.
Nonetheless, Ukraine’s reluctance is justified, as Russia’s withdrawal is a colossal, historic defeat by the Russian army, comparable to the failed attempt to capture Kyiv at the start of the invasion.
It’s a blow to the much-vaunted patriotism and morale of the Russian army, which is already low.
From a military point of view, this defeat is particularly difficult, because with the loss of the right bank of the Dnipro, Russia loses the bridgehead for the advance towards Mykolaiv and Odessa.
These are places where this war can later be decided. If Ukraine can hold these strategic areas, and the chances are good, the entire war effort and with it Putin’s regime will finally fail.
This is one of the reasons why, if the reporting in the New York Times is correct, Putin recently forbade his generals to give up Kherson.
The fact that the Kremlin chief has now changed his stance shows that he has learned from previous mistakes – and that is dangerous in terms of his future plans.
From the Russian point of view it is logical to give up the bridgehead on the right bank, which is difficult to supply and defend. Western military experts have also said so.
But anyone who has looked for logic in Russia’s actions in Ukraine is wasting their time. This war was in 2014 from the start and remains an act of madness.
There are many articles and books that describe how Russia traditionally shows little regard for human losses in war. The war against Ukraine is no exception.
At over 1,000 kilometers, the front line is so long that Russia simply does not have enough fighters to hold it. That is why the mobilization was necessary, which is being continued.
The fact that Putin has now agreed to what he considers a shameful withdrawal from Kherson means that after a number of defeats he will no longer be able to personally intervene in the war planning as much as previously known.
However, he will not give up his plans to occupy as much Ukrainian territory as possible and overthrow the government in Kyiv.
The restraint in such a situation is also correct because Russia hardly gives the Ukrainian army a chance to establish itself there and spend the winter. There is a risk that the Russian army will blow up the dam at Nowa Kakhovka and blame it on Ukraine.
That would be a catastrophe for the people in the region and would slow down the Ukrainian advance. Even if that doesn’t happen, Russia is likely to fire on Ukrainian positions in Kherson from the left bank. Cherson threatens to become a city in ruins, like Mariupol.
In the winter there could be a trench warfare in the Kherson region, but a new intensity is to be expected in the Donbass. It is conceivable that Russia will reinforce its troops there with the units that have now been withdrawn from Cherson. That was already after the defeat in Kyiv.
At that time, thanks to reinforcements, Russia was able to conquer the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. This experience is another reason not to celebrate too soon for Ukraine. There is still a long way to go before Russia is defeated.
The most important lesson from Cherson is that Ukraine has proven once again that it can successfully counter Russia with its superior resources. This is also important for Western support, which plays a key role for Ukraine. Without this support there would have been no victory for the Ukrainian army in Kherson.
Autor: Roman Goncharenko
The original of this post “Putin gives up Cherson and shows himself capable of learning – that’s dangerous” comes from Deutsche Welle.