Kherson recapture allows Ukraine to shift to next stage of attack

Russian retreat from regional capital will significantly reshape battlefield in Ukraine

SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

11 November 2022 • 5:40pm

Russia’s retreat from Kherson marks the end of the longest, hardest fought and perhaps bloodiest battle of the war so far. And it will reshape the battlefield and the political space.

Russian tanks crossed the Antonovsky bridge into Kherson in the first week of the war, their tracks tearing across the tarmac before the Ukrainians had a chance to blow it.

It was at the time a significant Russian victory: it was the first regional capital to fall to the invading army and secured a key crossing over the Dnipro river, dashing Ukrainian hopes of using it as a line of defence and opening the road to Odessa

By capturing Novokakhova up river they also secured fresh water supplies for Crimea, a key Kremlin objective.

Friday’s withdrawal has turned much of that on its head.

Russia’s chances of marching on Odessa faded in the following weeks in a series of battles across the Southern Bug, the next big river after Kherson. Since late March, it has been clear that the battle for the southwestern coast had been indefinitely postponed.

The retreat recognises reality. Despite brave words from some Russian commentators about one day returning, the fact is mounting an amphibious landing across the river without operating bridges will be almost impossible.

That also applies to the Ukrainians.

Although some people have suggested Kherson could become a jumping off point for a march on Crimea, the river – it is about 500m across at Kherson and widens to miles up and down stream – is simply too big an obstacle to cross easily.

Friday is likely to mark the end of significant manoeuvre warfare in the south.

Celebrations in Kherson
Ukrainians have been celebrating in Kherson since the Russian withdrawal CREDIT: Twitter

The river will become a static frontline running from its mouth as far upstream as the Zaporizhia region village of Vasilevka.

Both sides will take advantage of that shortening of relative security to move men and materiel to the eastern fronts.

The next big offensive battles are likely to occur in Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk region.

But that doesn’t mean Crimea is secure.

Ukraine will now be in range of key supply roads running out of the occupied peninsula. The Russians are likely to fire back across the river to harass Ukrainian troops and extract revenge for their defeat.

The future of the peninsula’s water supply is unclear, but probably safe for now.

The inlet of the north Crimean canal is on the Russia-controlled left bank of the river, and there is no obvious way for the Ukrainians to dam it without crossing themselves.

The political blow is also significant.

A Ukrainian soldier helps a wounded soldier at a hospital in Bakhmut, Donetsk
A Ukrainian soldier helps his wounded comrade at a hospital in Bakhmut, Donetsk. Donetsk is one of the areas in which the next big offensive battles are likely to occur CREDIT: Libkos/AP

Russia will try to spin the disaster at home as a Dunkirk-like miracle that denied the Ukrainians a victory – even though the Ukrainian objective all along was to force them out by making logistics impossible.

But there is no hiding the fact Russia has lost the only regional capital – and the largest city other than Mariupol – that it succeeded in capturing.

Ukraine will hope yet another decisive victory will convince sceptical Western allies that Russia can – and should – be defeated on the battlefield rather than negotiated with.

But some US officials have already said they hope the aftermath of the battle will provide a lull in which diplomacy might again become possible.

Moscow is more opaque.

Perhaps it will convince the Kremlin the time to talk – and make meaningful concessions Ukraine could actually entertain – has come.

But Vladimir Putin has, over recent months, fallen victim to his own propaganda. There is every reason to believe he intends to fight on.

3 comments

  1. “Ukraine will hope yet another decisive victory will convince sceptical Western allies that Russia can – and should – be defeated on the battlefield rather than negotiated with.”

    How can anyone in his right mind still be skeptical? Kyiv, Kharkiv, now Kherson … heck, the cockroaches were even thrown off of Snake Island! There can’t be any skepticism anymore!

    Liked by 4 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.