By David Sole
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on November 9 that Russian Federation troops would be withdrawn from the west bank of Dnieper River. This withdrawal includes the provincial capital of Kherson, occupied by Russian forces in the early days of the Special Military Operation against Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukraine forces have been advancing as the Russians withdraw their military hardware and soldiers. Heavy fighting had been going on between Russia and Ukraine for several months as Ukraine pursued an offensive in the region.
Military analysts have been debating whether Russia would make a stand at the city of Kherson or would pull back to the east bank of the Dnieper. Politically Russia would suffer by giving up this territory. But militarily the Kherson garrison was in danger of being encircled with their backs to the river. Supplying a major defense across the Dnieper River also could have proved difficult.
Another major consideration is the danger that Ukraine could have blown the Kakhovka Dam, which is about 40 miles upriver from the city of Kherson. For months Russia had been accusing the Ukraine military of targeting the dam. Releasing the huge reservoir of water behind the dam would have flooded a wide swath of land including Kherson city. Ferrying supplies across a flooded Dnieper would have been seriously obstructed.
In the face of these military dangers the Russian high command decided to suffer the political defeat and avoid a military defeat. Russian troops and battle equipment appear to be crossing the river in good order. By preserving their forces and equipment the Russians will be able to strengthen their defenses on the west bank of the Dnieper. As Russian forces continue to be strengthened by the recent call up of 300,000 reservists, Russia will have the ability to counterattack at a time and place of its choosing.
Meanwhile the Ukrainian forces have been suffering heavy casualties in their southern offensive and are not likely to be able to push beyond the Dnieper River. Many news reports have documented that the U.S. and its NATO allies have not been able to replace the huge losses in heavy equipment that Ukraine has experienced, especially in heavy tanks and air defense systems.
Western corporate and government media have wasted no time capitalizing on this withdrawal, calling it a decisive military defeat and the beginning of the collapse of the Russian endeavor. These claims are exaggerated and premature. The Russian military has been carefully preserving its fighting strength along more defensible lines. The contest between Ukraine and Russia will be protracted, no doubt, but the military situation definitely favors Russia.