The Pullout From Kherson

The Russian command decided to remove its troops in the Kherson region from the right bank of the Dnieper.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu did not look happy when he gave the order. He knows that another such setback will cost him his job.

This move looks bad.

That alone will have consequences. The Ukrainians, the Biden administration and the European supporter of Ukraine will be emboldened by this. The support in Russia for the war will shrink. Some people in Russia will start to call for President Putin’s head. There is no danger though that they will get it.

This move is operationally sound.

From the military point of view there is little chance to withstand a serious attack in the region as the resupply across the Dnieper river is very difficult and can not be guaranteed. Moreover the possible breach of the Dnieper river dams would make any resupply impossible for at least a week or even longer. That would be enough time for the Ukrainians to slaughter whatever number of Russian troops were left behind.

Strategically the move is bad.

It closes for now the possibility of moving into Nikolaev (Mykolaiv) and further towards Odessa. This could have and should have been done earlier.  But the Russian commanded did not commit sufficient forces for that fight. There were also sound reason for not doing that. Now it is too late to criticize those decisions.

It is quite possible that, behind the scene, a deal has been made over this. If one was made we are unlikely to learn of it anytime soon.

The priorities now should be to get the soldiers and equipment out of the area. It will require intense air defense coverage to prevent the close down of ferry points by Ukrainian artillery. There is no reason to make it easy for the Ukraine to regain the area. Until the evacuation is done any significant Ukrainian move into the area should be responded to with effective artillery fire.

Soon the Ukrainian army will start to move troops prepared for an attack in Kherson to other front lines. Russia must likewise move its troops to reinforce its positions elsewhere.

Morale requires that the next Russian move has to be big push with strategic significance. The concept of deep battle and deep operations should be reapplied. Historically it has nearly always worked to Russia’s advantage.

But the big push does not need to be solely militarily. A further significant damage of Ukraine’s economy via its electricity network is an additional option. To severely interdict its supply lines from the west is another one.

We need to look at the big picture.

The world is moving away from a unilateral ‘western’ led model towards a new multilateral future. By waging war in Ukraine Russia initiated and accelerated this historic change. In sight of that the pullback from Kherson is just a minor tactical loss. It can and likely will be rectified by moves happening elsewhere.