Russia Slips Out of Kherson Under Cover of Midterms

Russia-friendly commentators, apparently even more so the ones on Russian Telegram, were in an uproar after Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and theater commander Sergey Surovikin, said in a broadcast Wednesday evening that Russia would be withdrawing its forces from Kherson city and pulling its defense line back to the south side of the Dneiper, opposite the city. We and others had pointed out that such a move would be politically costly in Russia, even though Surovikin was widely believed to have been hinting at that possibility three weeks ago when he talked about the possibility of needing to make “difficult decisions” in an interview shortly after he took charge.

There are multiple layers to this news which came in a staged conversation between the two officials. The first is that the upset among Russia supporters is disproportionate and reflects what I call map thinking, which I admit I fell for here. But the second, intriguingly, is that Ukraine officials are expressing skepticism that Russia is actually pulling out, since they allege (and some Russia friendly sources also suggest) that Russia has not removed troops from Kherson city. So is this an elaborate Russian headfake?

Or is it simply that Russia is calling Ukraine’s bluff, that for whatever reason taking and holding Kherson would be problematic for Ukraine too, but given the pressure on Ukraine to show gains, it can’t not move in if Russia cedes the city (as in it’s not a trap per se but not worth the resources it would require).

Some maps to help the discussion:

In most wars, success is defined in terms of territorial gains. But when it started the Special Military Operation, Russia has only one territorial objective: to secure and clear Donetsk and Lugansk. The other, demilitarization and denazification, may result in Russia taking territory as a secondary goal. Note that Russia does not have full control of any of the “liberated” oblasts that is says are now part of Russia.

Russia has been willing to cede terrain to secure its position. This normally takes place in fits and starts on the front lines. It’s worked consistently to Russia’s advantage since that approach has enabled them to save men and materiel. By contrast, Ukraine had doggedly fought to hold positions, as did Hitler in World War II. As military historians argue and Ukraine watchers contend now, this approach has cost Ukraine dearly in manpower and equipment losses.

Despite this approach being as dull as watching paint dry from the map perspective, it has also been the least costly way for Russia to chip though the multi-layered bunkering in Donbass and grind down the Ukraine (and increasingly NATO-supplied) forces.

But differences in degree are differences in kind. When Russia pulled out of Kharkiv, Ukraine and the West spun it as a military success despite the (largely empty) territory having no strategic importance. Russians were upset by the lack of explanation, which fed suspicions that things were even worse than they looked, and the fact that some Russia-supporting citizens had not gotten out and were subjected to Ukraine reprisals.

However, after a couple of weeks of Ukraine-gasms, the military was unable to make meaningful advances, supporting the contention that Russia had chosen to fall back to lines it could defend better, and had done so taking almost no losses.

Despite that history, I discounted the idea that Russia would cede Kherson unless pressed very hard by Ukraine forces. Reports that Russia was putting more troops and equipment in Kherson city, along with constructing fortified lines and having pillboxes delivered, bolstered that view. Admittedly, Russia had more and more aggressively been pushing for civilians to evacuate and had even removed important historical monuments. The justification was that civilians were exposed to shelling and would generally be underfoot if the city was being prepared for combat, and Ukraine was trying to blow up the dam of the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station, which would cause catastrophic flooding in Kherson.

So perhaps Surovikin has always planned to fall back from Kherson city and has had to obfuscate his intent till now, given the difficulty of moving anything out of Kherson (Russia is limited to boats and pontoon bridges). Or perhaps he was hedging his bets and various factors moved the decision to more clearly favor a pullback, like Ukraine succeeding in damaging one of the locks on the Kakhovskaya dam four days ago, or possibly the status of the mud season (is it lasting longer than usual?).

One more possibility is that Russia has decided to conserve its forces and materiel while the mud season is on and let the destruction of the Ukraine grid and the economic pressures on Europe lead the charge for now. The West’s under-reporting on the continuing Russian pounding of the electrical system reflects their impotence. They’d make more noise if they thought they had an answer. And Alexander Mercouris speculated that the failure to say all that much about increasingly desperate conditions in Ukraine means Europe does not want to admit to the necessity of accepting more refugees if Russia continues to inflict more pain, which seems likely.

Nevertheless, this move is at a minimum very bad optics (unless it is a clever trap that Russia springs successfully) but the optics that matter to Russia are the optics in Russia. Larry Johnson points out that the generally uncontrollable now general and Chechen leader Razman Khadyrov had backed the withdrawal (note he recently savagely criticized a Russian general, on not well-founded grounds, so he regularly throws brickbats when he’s unhappy about military operations). Taken from Johnson’s site:

I fully agree with Mr. Prigozhin’s opinion on Surovikin’s decision. Yevgeny Viktorovich very accurately noted that Surovikin saved a thousand soldiers who were in actual encirclement.

After weighing all the pros and cons, General Surovikin made a difficult but right choice between senseless sacrifices for the sake of loud statements and saving the priceless lives of soldiers.

Kherson is a very difficult area without the possibility of a stable regular supply of ammunition and the formation of a strong, reliable rear. Why was this not done from the first days of the special operation? This is another question. But in this difficult situation, the general acted wisely and far-sightedly – he evacuated the civilian population and ordered a regrouping.

So there is no need to talk about the “surrender” of Kherson. “Surrender” together with the fighters. And Surovikin protects the soldier and takes a more advantageous strategic position – convenient, safe.

Everyone knew from the very first days of the special operation that Kherson was a difficult combat territory. The soldiers of my units also reported that it was very difficult to fight in this area. Yes, it can be kept, it is possible to organize at least some supply of ammunition, but the cost will be numerous human lives. And this forecast does not suit us.

Therefore, I believe that Surovikin acted like a real military general, not afraid of criticism.

He is responsible for the people. He sees better.

Thank you, Sergey Vladimirovich, for taking care of the guys! And we will not stop hitting the enemy and we will not get tired.

I have no idea how much this and other statements will do to calm the nerves of Russian citizens, but this is an improvement on Kharviv. The civilians are being removed to safety, the Russians are clearly signaling that they are pulling back, as opposed to allowing Ukraine to claim they were pushed out, and officials seen as being straight shooters are explaining the move.

From some of the usual suspects, first Andrei Martyanov:

Optics of it is bad and in terms of military lingo it is a tactical-operational setback if one considers the main objective of the war just conquering and holding territory, which it IS NOT…

Finally, for those who still do not understand, here is flooding map from Kakhovka Dam to Kherson, once the dam gives.

Anybody wants to defend it, when the waters come?

And Larry Johnson:

I realize this frustrates the dickens out of the global audience who are eager to see a major clash. Some are pulling for Kiev and others are rooting for Moscow. General Surovikin understands that the opinions of the “watchers” is irrelevant. He will fight at a place and time of his choosing, if he can. What is noteworthy about the Russian withdrawal from Kherson is that it was not done under fire or attack. It was calm and orderly an apparently was pre-planned. Perhaps this explains the rumors that circulated a few weeks back that Russia was going to leave Kherson city…

Given the fact the Russia barely has committed any of its main army and advanced weaponry to the battle front while Ukraine scrambles like a beggar in the world market pleading for more money and more vehicles and more tanks, I believe that Russia has the edge. I am not privy to the military plans of the Russian military high command, but the Russian generals do not strike me as men driven by fear and reacting emotionally to tactical shifts on the ground. They are planners and they keep those plans to themselves. I do not think Russia’s long history of surprising adversaries on the battlefield has come to an end. Anyone want to bet that Russia turned the lights off in Kherson before leaving?

And Brian Berletic:

Yes, this is the non-Russia hostile interpretation, but you’ll find plenty of the other world view elsewhere.

But here is the odd part: Ukraine is leery of the Russian present of departure. Podolyak is an advisor to Zelensky:

Consistent with Ukraine not being yet sure if Russia has a nefarious plan, the business press so far has not deigned to report on the Russian announcement, which you’d normally expect, like Kharkiv, to be a lead or at least over the fold story. Instead, for instance, nothing in the breaking news stories at Bloomberg or even in the Ukraine news updates section:

Moreover, Dima at Military Summary argues Russia still has so many troops in Kherson that it would be impossible for them to withdraw without Ukraine forbearance. Dima has a tendency to get out over his skis when he deviates from day-to-day reporting on the status of the front line. For instance, in the last famed Kherson offensive, he stuck with the very highest estimate of Ukraine forces, 60,000, when other reporters started with 12,000-15,000 and bumped it up to 20,000 to 30,000 (which may also have been due to the addition of reinforcements).

Nevertheless, Dima likely has some elements generally right even if the particulars might be pumped up. He again claims Ukraine has 60,000 in Kherson. For sake of argument, it is probably at least 30,000. Note that in the day to day fighting, Ukraine has been attacking in Kherson well to the east, while their assaults on Kherson seem to have been mainly in the form of shelling.

Dima claims there are 10,000 to 15,000 Russian troops in Kherson to the West of the Dneiper, which is rather a lot to remove via pontoon bridge and boats, unless Russia is counting on a protracted mud season to protect their rear. Dima also claims that Russia just blew all the bridges on the Inhulets river in Kherson oblast, which runs in a zig-zag north from the Dnieper just to the east of Kherson city. That would divide the Russian bridgehead on the west of the Dneiper….to what purpose? Dima didn’t know the disposition of Russian forces, so it is hard to speculate further.

In other words, the fog of war is pea-soupier than usual! Presumably more will be revealed in the next week or so, particularly regarding Ukraine’s response.

Update 8:45 AM EST. I hate it when I am slow to connect dots due to the pressure to put a good argument together. If Ukraine were to move troops into Kherson, it would be even more exposed to flood risk than Russia due to Russia’s control of the dam. Russia could send a surge down the river.

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  1. Lex

    Weird War III. Bad optics but probably good tactics. The Russian military has mostly talked about the difficulty of supplying the right bank because Ukraine can strike crossings with stand-off weaponry. The optics would be worse if a Ukrainian attack was launched and there were large surrender or casualty events and the same withdrawal.

    Is there a deal? There might be, but a deal is extra bad for Zelensky because without active hostilities the population will focus on the near-term collapse of the Ukrainian economy and it would have to come with Ukrainian withdrawals elsewhere. Russia doesn’t seem panicked. It’s still training the bulk of the mobilized rather than sending them to the front. And while this is bad optics, Russia remains proactive rather than reactive. I think that which side of that divide Russia is one is of primary importance to Russian leadership.

    Martynov constantly complains about the lack of scale on published maps. He’s right. This is ~4,000 km2. It’s politically important for Russia but based on Kiev’s public statements of goals, it still leaves ~96,000 km2 that must be recaptured. It also likely protects the reservoir and Crimean water supply because Kiev is unlikely to destroy the dam and flood its recently regained territory. There’s a steep cost in this for Russia; on the other hand, it puts Kiev in a complicated position in some ways and negates a potential battlefield victory. It does likely mean that Odessa is off the table in the medium term.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t mean to sound like I am criticizing you, since you are commenting on widespread chatter, but I don’t buy this deal talk for one second. We Yankees have a saying, “Fool me once, shame on thee, fool me twice, shame on me.”

      First, the bargaining positions of the two sides are so far apart any “talk” would last at most ten minutes and would only heighten mutual antipathy, assuming either side could go higher on their respective registers. Ukraine wants Russia to cede everything, including Crimea. Russia wants NATO to go back to its 1997 lines. A Russian fallback might be acceptance of current Russian positions, Ukraine neutrality, no Sweden and Finland admission to NATO, and the invite to Georgia withdrawn. Na ga happen.

      Second, Russia knows it can’t negotiate with Zelensky. This gets into a negotiating problem I call “double brokering”. You as a principal never never never want to negotiate with an agent. If you as a principal venture a position to the agent and the agent agrees, he can then go back to his principal and have the principal reject it and press you for more. Your commitments as principal are seen as meaningful in the bargaining context but the agent’s are not.

      Third, Russia knows the West is not agreement capable. Look at Minsk, now admitted by Poroshenko never intended to be implemented, just a ruse to buy time. The Russians know the point of any deal before Ukraine is prostrated and NATO arms caches are depleted is to get Russia to demobilize. Then the West will renege and what is Russia to do about that? Drop a Kinzhal on Ramstein?

      Fourth, the WaPo story made absolutely clear that Zelensky was ordered to pretend to be willing to negotiate but to actually not be. This was entirely an exercise in optics to calm down EU members getting increasingly worried about where the conflict was going. I have no idea why so many commentators have gone off the deep end with totally unfounded speculation about talks. They must have too much air time to fill given the lack of much battlefield action. If there was any actual thawing, for starters, Biden would not have been so unwilling even to come in contact with Putin at the G20 (were Putin going) that his minders were instructed to make sure Biden never encountered Putin, even in passing in a corridor.

      1. tgs

        Perhaps I am mistaken, but once Kherson was declared part of Russia, no one not even Putin can give it back or bargain it away without violating the Russian constitution. Perhaps I am wrong about this. But if true, it seems to rule out any kind of deal concerning Kherson.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Agreed as a separate and important issue. Putin in his Sept 29 speech said the four oblasts were forever part of Russia. And not all of them are in Russian hands!!!

          Dima went off on a major flight of fancy about how Russia and Ukraine must have agreed to safe passage for the Russian troops. I didn’t want to expend the pixels to explain the many reasons why that idea was barmy. This is not the first time Dima has gone way off the reservation in trying to play strategist. He needs to stick to his knitting.

          1. kemerd

            I believe this is in response to US threat to join the fight should Russia attempt to finish off Ukraine. Here
            Colonel MacGregor says that apparently US massed a total of 90K troops: US, polish, and Romanian, and it was delivered directly by Sullivan to his Russian counterpart.
            If this is true, that is Russians taking preventive action against US blowing up the dam, and they have no intention of backing off.
            I believe Russians will call the US bluff and we’ll get to see whether Poland and Romania have stomach to join the fight without the US forces.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I appreciate the willingness to offer detail, but please be more careful when you do so. It makes me exceptionally unhappy to have to spend the time to correct inaccuracies. I do agree with your conclusion that the US sabre-rattled. What I am quibbling over is “massed”. These are not recent deployments (as in recent weeks).

              MacGregor 7:27: “I’m not sure he gave them great details….Cleary the Russians know exactly what we have on the ground….They certainly know what we are doing'”

              From MIlMag in May:

              Kirby said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered the deployment of around 10,500 personnel in the coming months to replace Army units ordered to the region in advance of, and in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine…

              These deployments are a one-for-one unit replacements, which leaves our overall force posture in the region – approximately 100,000 — unchanged, he said at a Pentagon news conference. The units being replaced will return to their home stations following a proper turnover of responsibilities.


              At US they could mass that and Macgregor regarded that as a presumed maximum. He was clear that was not enough to beat Russia but would put the US and Europe at war with Russia.

        2. nippersdad

          Give and take of territory in the context of battle is not the same thing as having given it away during peace treaty talks. If they pull out of West Kherson for strategic reasons it is with the understanding that it will be regained at a later date.

        3. The Rev Kev

          I think the key here is seeing what the Russians are all about. From what I see, they value their people over their land. So they will retreat to save their people and when conditions are right, will then move and take back that land when they defeat their enemy. This idea led me to an interesting question. Suppose that in forty years time, the US was much diminished and Mexico more powerful due to their oil and having Chinese help. And suppose a leader got elected in Mexico which promised to take back all the land lost to America back in the 1840s, namely California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. Mexico invades. Mexico has nukes now so the US can’t use theirs. So if the US had to evacuate all Americans from all those States to save the American Army so that it could reform and retake those States, what would happen. Would they imitate the Russians and pull out of those States until they could come back or would they imitate the Ukrainians and fight for every square inch.

          1. Bsn

            Wonderful documentary on the Mexican revolutions is here:
            In watching it and learning more about our friends to the south, I’m realizing that Mexico, in the American’s eyes, is just another state to reap chaos, keep divided, and control for the US’ benefit. Is the US policy and actions the source of Mexican drug wars and cartels? It would be interesting to see how Mexico fares when the US collapses and has to retreat from Mexico itself and Iraq, Libya, Syria, Solomon Islands, Iran, Somalia, Bolivia, Taiwan, Chad …. did I forget anyone?

            1. norm de plume

              Is the US policy and actions the source of Mexican drug wars and cartels?

              I have often wondered whether the cartels are still there because they serve some sort of perverse goal of the US.. I mean, if massive military interventions can be made in far away lands to ‘protect US interests’, often when those interests in terms of the average Joe are difficult to discern, why not right next door where the cartels pose a clear and present and future danger to the health and security of American citizens? I realise the drug lords have access to enormous monetary resources and the very best hi-tech, but can anyone doubt they could be wrapped up in a week if the US was serious about doing it?

              There would of course be adverse impacts for the coke-snorting classes and the producers of Hollywood movies and Netflix series, but the national cost/benefit ratio looks pretty clear. And the Mexican government may not look kindly on an intervention but when has that ever stopped America in the past?

              when the US collapses and has to retreat from Mexico itself and Iraq, Libya, Syria, Solomon Islands, Iran, Somalia, Bolivia, Taiwan, Chad …. did I forget anyone?

              Your use of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ – more expectation than hope – is telling, and this apprehension of rapid imperial decline seems more and more common everywhere. After decades of elite lassitude and hubris that conviction has finally penetrated TPTB and now that the full implications of this loss of pre-eminence are clear, we see the panicked brinksmanship, the bullying of allies as well as foes, the Leninist approach to messaging and news management. There is a sense that, like the favoured team coasting to victory that suddenly realises their unfancied opponent is winning, corners are being cut and risks taken that could have been avoided with some vigilance and prudent action long before.

              As for forgetting anyone, this link from the other day will give you a few more, but really this list is probably the most exhaustive:


              It would be simpler to ask which country on earth does NOT have a US State Dept/Nat Sec/CIA ‘desk’ charged with the prevention or limitation of sovereignty and self-determination in the interests of American capital. A friend emailed me the other day about how Algeria is seeking BRICS membership. I replied:

              ‘The Algeria desk at the FO must be busy! Though these days it is more likely the lead comes from the Algeria section of the CIA, no doubt occupying a floor or two of some anonymous chrome and glass monstrosity in Langley VA.

              In fact the level of feverish intensity on all the floors in all the nameless buildings in the US dedicated to interfering in all nations, most of which most Americans have never heard of let alone could find on a map, would be at a pitch never before seen. Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan – all busier than Afghanistan nowadays, and that’s just the A’s!

              Haiti, Pakistan, Iran.. the poor buggers charged with queering the pitch in those places would be flat out right now. And with The Multipolarity getting ever closer, the stress will ratchet up to 11 even for the second raters running operations against patriots in sleepy outposts like Andorra or Angola or Argentina. Or Australia for that matter. Again, that’s just the A’s.

              Try to imagine the sq metres of floor space, the numbers of personnel, the $ spent on the ‘desks’ devoted to all of these operations in Langley, Washington, or wherever – they would be staggering figures. Like the MIC expenditures and the huge lobbying industries surrounding them, all of this relies, utterly depends upon the Unipolarity. Hence the panic, the brinksmanship, the danger for us all.’

              1. Karl

                It would be simpler to ask which country on earth does NOT have a US State Dept/Nat Sec/CIA ‘desk’ charged with the prevention or limitation of sovereignty and self-determination in the interests of American capital.

                I recently visited Belize and learned that the U.S. embassy there is the largest in the world. I saw it on a swing through the country and it is indeed huge for such a tiny country. My guess is that’s the hub of many “US State Dept/Nat Sec/CIA ‘desks’” for Central America. Economies of scale, I guess…..

          2. Old Sovietologist

            I think nail firmly on head by the Rev Ken – “They value their people over their land. So they will retreat to save their people”.

            The Ukrainian leadership would with a shrug of the shoulders sacrifice 20k or 30k of their own for a piece of real estate.

            I posted a week or so ago that it would make perfect military sense to withdraw from Kherson. Why sacrifice combat ready troops?

            As Yves has said, the “optics look bad”. So can the Kremlin successfully explain to the Russian people why this had to happen? For me the jury is out.

            War’s are won and lost on the psyche level as much the military. On the home front and the enemies. Zelensky will enter Kherson City like a modem day Alexander The Great just before G20 and maybe Ursula will be along for the ride. What does that say to the Russian and the Ukrainian people?

            The 20% opposed to the operation in Russia are vindicated. The 70% who broadly support it are now dividing themselves. You only have to read telegram to see that.

            1. Old Sovietologist

              Russia isn’t prepared for big losses the public certainly aren’t and nor I suspect are the military

              Any offensive, breakthrough and encirclement operations, and even holding positions with counterattacks, are all big high losses if the enemy is strong enough, motivated enough, numerous enough and has decent weapons and good reconnaissance.

              During World War II all the Red Army successes were accompanied by very, very significant losses on the Soviet side. And the current operation shows that all offensives of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are also accompanied by extremely high losses on their part.

              The only option for low-loss operations is the tactics of preventive retreats, i.e. the retreat is not after the blow and pressure of the enemy, but the retreat a little earlier than the blow of the enemy. As a result, the retreaters practically do not come under fire from the attackers, and the attackers will be in unprepared positions under continuous fire from the retreaters.

              The defenders conduct their long-range artillery with dense fire at the front edge of the enemy (essentially a barrage of fire), but gradually shifting him back. And those advancing on the front line have only short-range fire weapons (tanks, small arms, ATGMs, etc.). The attackers cannot put their long-range artillery on the front line, because. in this case it will be easily destroyed. The tactics are reliable and effective, but they do involve the loss of territories.

              1. Polar Socialist

                During World War II all the Red Army successes were accompanied by very, very significant losses on the Soviet side.

                A younger sovietologist might disagree about the all successes, having read his/her Erickson and Glantz. At least according to Erickson by the end of 1944 Red Army was the safest place for an allied soldier to be. They learned by doing.

                That said, it’s also obvious that what NATO always though was Soviet mass army doctrine (as in thousands of tanks rolling trough Fulda cap) was actually knowledge that every war will turn into war of attrition, and one needs manpower to be the last man standing. It’s still easier to conserve manpower than keep rebuilding armies.

              2. redleg

                I’m an ex-artillery officer informing you that your take on artillery is dead wrong.
                1. Look at countless offensives in modern military history where the key to a successful assault was artillery. There are so many that naming ten barely scratches the surface.
                2. Given the range and accuracy of modern rockets and missiles, every battery of artillery, platoon of mortars, and fire support warship is in effective range of enemy fire.
                3. If you have cover and the enemy is moving, no matter who is technically attacking or defending, you have the option of calling fire on yourself. Moving soldiers are extremely vulnerable to any sort of fire, soldiers in cover (this includes armor) not so much. Note that this could explain why the Russians have recently been constructing fortifications- It’s nearly impossible to do in ground that’s frozen.

                I could go on, but I won’t for now.

                1. hk

                  Your point is making me wonder if in fact Russians will actually withdraw (in full) from Kherson. A small well entrenched force within friendly artillery range would be a very difficult objective for the hostiles to dislodge, especially if they lack the volume of artillery.

      2. Lachlan

        Perhaps the original commenter meant a deal between the militaries. The two armies agree not to disturb each other in the Kherson sector while Russia pulls out. Not an armistice or any political settlement, just a military agreement.

        Ukraine gets the city intact, Russia leaves with forces intact. These sorts of deals are common in warfare, famously in 2014 Russia made a deal to make a humanitarian corridor to allow encircled Ukrainian troops out of a town and allegedly shelled them as they did so.

        Such a deal in Kherson also needn’t interfere with fighting in other parts of the front, which continue.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Again, the tweet from a top Ukrainian, that they don’t trust the Russians are leaving and are making no moves to do so, is inconsistent with utterly unsourced speculation.

          Plus, per the WaPo, since Ukraine is under mucho pressure to look like they are negotiation-amenable, they’d have VERY strong incentives to publicize a deal if there were a deal. On top of that, they would look utterly incompetent to let Russians leave without trying to inflict damage on them.

      3. Lex

        I don’t take it as criticism of me. Putin does have a history of showing good faith first (and getting screwed for it, but there’s a higher issue where his getting screwed proves a point to the global community). I do not think the withdrawal is caused by a deal. Preparations for it have been too methodical. It’s a tactical decision for sure. I do think it could be part of a tactical deal or the potential prelude to one. And I say that because a deal is more problematic for Zelensky than Putin so there’s some logic from the Russian side in pursuing one (or appearing to do so even knowing it will fail).

        I agree with you in that I see another possibility in the wider context. Globally it looks like a lot of nations are rope-a-doping the US with overextension. I think all the DPRK missiles are exactly that. Kherson, deal or no, actually makes it harder for Biden to extricate himself from Ukraine. Look at this improvement, you can’t stop helping now. But 4,000 km2 is minor compared to the total quagmire. I don’t think it’s 4d chess, just normal chess. The difference in the players is that Russia appears to be playing a long game and the US cannot do that. It’s congenitally incapable of playing the long game.

        I’ve never seen the “1997 borders” as a military statement but a general one. And from where I sit it looks like Russia is more than willing to pay short term costs to create long term undermining of the current European security construction. The responses to daily battlefield updates or the tactical level minutiae are simply a matter of this being the first major, social media conflict. I don’t think the Kremlin cares about that at all.

          1. ambrit

            And then use all the “recent” ‘aid’ to the Ukraine as a “reason” for imposing creeping austerity here at home in America. [Will Biden float the idea of a “New Grand Bargain” now that the American Congress is still firmly in gridlock mode?]
            A cynic might say that this situation is a “win win” for the Neo-liberal Dispensation. It helps continue ‘neutralizing’ Ukrainian and Russian service members and accelerates the ‘shrinkification’ of the population of older, “useless eaters” in the good old US of A.

          2. Karl

            This will be the last $50B Ukraine gets, I predict. If Ukraine needs yet another infusion later in 2023, it will be pretty clear Ukraine isn’t winning and it will look like good money after bad. The deficit may widen earlier than expected, due to recession, and the debt limit might be reached in the second quarter of 2023. “We don’t have the money” will give everyone an off-ramp from the Ukraine drain.

      4. albrt

        I do wonder whether the parties (perhaps Sullivan and his Russian counterpart?) could have made a small deal at the tactical level – something along the lines of “we will evacuate if you promise not to attack the ferries while we are retreating.” Both sides acting in good faith on a small deal is probably the only path toward a broader deal.

        Edit: didn’t see all the updated comments above this on similar points.

      5. julianmacfarlane

        Not that ANYONE should ever take a WaPo article at face value. Biden is so far gone he could pass Putin in a corridor and not notice who it was.

    2. Lachlan

      A deal between the two militaries is possible. But I am more inclined to believe Ukraine is being cautious out of exhaustion. Russia has likely mined the region and set up booby traps. And Ukraine has been taking significant losses in the Kherson battles of the past month or two.

      So I think they’re happy to allow Russia to leave unharried and claim the reward of the city in a weeks time or so. Russia is also no doubt happy with the situation.

      But we may never know for sure.

    3. anon in so cal

      anon in so cal
      “November 7, 2022 at 11:10 am

      US and NATO will consider peace talks if Russia loses Kherson? A sick joke?

      “US and NATO allow the start of peace talks on Ukraine if Kyiv recaptures Kherson, the battle for which has both strategic and diplomatic significance.”

      La Repubblica newspaper”

      Was some kind of deal in the works for weeks?

      Col MacGregor claimed that Jake Sullivan (al Qaeda is on our side in Syria) communicated terms to the Kremlin.

      Reply ↓

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    Yves Smith: It is interesting that you write about map-driven thinking that undermines assessments of tactics. Yet a look at the map makes the Russian reassessment obvious. Kherson sits northwest of the Dnieper in what is undoubtedly a floodplain, on the edge of the delta of the enormous river. The local geography determines the tactics–this isn’t map as territory. This is geography as the force that shapes cities.

    [Reminder to Ukrainian diehards: Take a look at the portion of the map the includes Crimea. Now why would the Russians be interested in holding on to such a convenient peninsula? Noting the cities with names that derive from Greek? Hmmm. The Greeks knew a thing or two.]

    Back to Kherson: What U.S. city comes to mind? New Orleans. Which sits in a lowland at the end of another highly altered major river.

    Tactically, can one defend New Orleans? If the enemy floods it?

    Now, to employ Jacques Baud’s rule of using Ukrainian charges and complaints as a mirror of Ukrainian intentions, what is bugging the Ukrainians?

    I’d imagine that Kherson wouldn’t be difficult to shell to the ground once the Ukrainians pack it full of inexperienced soldiers.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Lambert and I discussed the analogy to New Orleans. Agreed.

      Oh, and since Russia controls the dam, Russia could just as easily flood Kherson if it wanted to, a point I neglected to mention and reason alone for Ukraine to be leery of the Kherson gift.

      Re the map beef: just to reiterate my point, it is the obsession with acquiring territory qua territory, and not in pursuit or even as a by product of achieving strategic aims. Russia now finds itself in the position of needing to defeat NATO. It is actually doing better than one might expect by virtue of NATO being largely a paper tiger, and to the extent it isn’t, set up to prosecute regional combats with insurgents or at most governments already weakened by regime-change exercises. And of course the collective West thinking sanctioning Russia would be a knockout blow, and now being the one slowly bleeding out due to high energy and commodities costs.

      1. nippersdad

        Of all the scenarios presented, I find it very difficult to believe that Russia would deliberately flood Kherson for a fleeting tactical advantage. I think of what it cost West Germany to rebuild East Germany after its’ having taken it over, and that was not a war ravaged area. The Russians are already going to have a lot of rebuilding to do throughout the region they are taking over, and rebuilding an historic city unnecessarily would be especially costly.

        It could well be that they are trying to prevent further damage to the city by pulling out with a view to siege warfare later, as with Paris in WWII. I would find that much more believable. And there is the potential for the US to send in a large enough missile to blow that dam that the Ukrainians cannot, and then blame the Russians for it. At this point I wouldn’t put much past us.

        1. EGrise

          I agree with your assessment. I was thinking that for Russia the dam is now a “fleet in being” – not one they’re likely to use, but better than a Sword of Damocles over their own heads.

          Further to your point on rebuilding costs, it seems to me that Russia now doesn’t have to worry about rebuilding the dam either – Ukraine no longer has a reason to blow it up.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          You forget Russia burned Moscow to thwart Napoleon. As Lambert would put it, they have form.

          They also removed key monuments. They’ve made some prep for flooding and/or Ukraine moving in.

          To trap 20,000-30,000 troops and capture them or finish them off? That would be demoralizing and presented as a massive defeat.

          1. nippersdad

            That they would potentially destroy Kherson as Kutuzov did Moscow in 1812 is an interesting idea. I wonder if they did not view Moscow in the same way as did Charles II after the Great Fire of London, or Hausmann in the late Nineteenth century in Paris? As opportunities to wipe away the accretions of their old medieval cities and rebuild them into something more modern and manageable? Are present day mindsets the same as they were then?

            You raise some interesting questions! You can move Prince Potemkins’ body far more easily than the church he was buried in, but I have to say that the Russian Federation has done an amazing job of rebuilding what is left of their pre-Soviet cultural heritage, and I doubt that they would purposely destroy it if they could find another way.

            They are not gong to be able to leave Ukraine to General Winter as easily as they did Napoleon after Moscow. From his reputation destroying armies is what Surovikin is good at, so twenty or thirty thousand troops at what cost to your national soul might be the more relevant question from the Russian perspective.

            1. fairleft

              A flood would damage but not destroy Kherson’s historical buildings. Destroying the dam would flood the city, but there wouldn’t be a tsunami.

      2. Karl

        … since Russia controls the dam, Russia could just as easily flood Kherson if it wanted to.

        Wouldn’t Russia need to situate troops adjacent to the dam’s Western bank to “control” it? This would keep the dam (and the bridge) in Russian hands, and provide a crossing for a later offensive to the West?

        If so, Russia’s announcement means an evacuation from Kherson city but retain some positions further north on the West bank of the Dneiper.

        I sincerely doubt Russia would flood Kherson inasmuch as that city is now part of Mother Russia. Mother would treat its citizens better than that. Doing so would seem to be an act of desperation and the optics would be terrible even if it has military advantages.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Again, not if they get to capture >20,000 troops. That would be widely seen as a massive victory for Russia.

          Russia already controls the dam. That is why Ukraine is having to shell it rather than just demolish it right there.

          Russia took it to restore water to Crimea. So as I pointed out earlier in the thread, they already also have another bridgehead on the West of the Dneiper. There is a railroad there and a road going west. I have no idea otherwise if this could later be a staging ground for a move further west.

  3. JohnA

    From another optics point of view, Russia looks far more humane and considerate about the safetey of their soldiers than Ukraine. Shoigu and Surovikin made it clear that they did not want to sacrifice Russian soldiers needlessly. This contrasts completely with Zelensky who seems content to send wave after wave of Ukrainian troops, of varying degrees of training and age groups, into the meatgrinder and certain death. Plus there have been reports of the Azov ‘enforcers’ blocking attempts to retreat including shooting anyone who tries this.

    1. jan

      Interesting in light of last week’s reporting I heard about on a Dutch podcast and also mentioned by the MoD that the Russians were “probably” deploying “barrier troops” or “blocking units”. “Due to low morale and reluctance to fight”.

      1. JohnA

        Western MoD seem to be falling overthemselves to report Ukrainian propaganda, much totally unverified. In the case of the British MoD, their daily reports are littered with ‘probably’ and ‘likely’ when reporting various negative claims about Russia. So take such reports with a barrel load of salt, not merely a pinch.

    2. hk

      A lot of Western commentators seem to be stuck in the Yeltsin era and think that the Russian Army is that of the First Chechen War.

      The big military reform that Putin et al have been undertaking is to professionalize the army, shifting the emphasis to a relatively small number of highly trained military professionals. This new army has already been highly effective in Georgia and Syria, but it is very vulnerable to attrition because there are only so many military professionals (as I understand it, conscripts still made up 40-50% of the Russian Army at the end of 2021). The BTG concept (big firepower, very small manpower) as well as the great aversion to casualties shown by the Russian high command emerges naturally from this reality.

      The idea of this kind of army taking tens of thousands of casualties is absurd (if it did, it would not be able to function, period, and no commander would have been able to take it that far.). They almost certainly are not suffering serious morale issues (enough to materially affect their performance) and using “blocking troops” on them is preposterous, but….

      It does mean that Russians are also suffering a serious dilemma: I really don’t think they have enough professionals to mount the kind of big offensive people seem to be expecting. The kind of reserves they could recall to replenish or augment the actual combat power of their forces is limited because, again, there would only be so many former military professionals. A large proportion of their army (including, obviously, many/most of the professionals) are needed elsewhere, to guard against other potential situations. Perhaps they could mass for a fairly short duration (not unlike the opening stage of SMO) but not for months. So if the Russians launch a big blow in the near future, they’d better make that work. I don’t think a strike along the coast to Odessa would have “worked,” as in wrap the conflict up. So perhaps the abandonment of Kherson is not a big deal, especially if that could free up the valuable professional manpower. But where could Russian strike quickly to bring the conflict to an actual conclusion, and what would the prerequisites be?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You are high on the level of conscripts. Russia has 410,000 professional soldiers as of 2020 and a decree to increase their numbers step-wise over time. I read 450,000 but that may be rounding up from a # like 430,000. There are 2 sets of conscription call-ups a year for 12 month service terms. Was 130,000, now 135,000, so double that to 270,000.

        1. hk

          Interesting. I was under the impression that the Russian Army had a bit under a million men or so (although, looking things over, it may have been the size of the entire armed forces). Your number of professionals is about what I knew, but I took that to mean that the remainder were made up of conscripts.

          1. Polar Socialist

            It’s my understanding that the Russian military has about a million civilian employees, and about a million military. Of the latter, about 400-500k are actual combat troops, the rest are bureaucrats, teachers (not instructors), industrial liaisons etc.

            And then, of course, that 250-300k conscripts, depending on the year.

  4. Polar Socialist

    Retired Deputy Commander of NATO Strategic Forces, Polish general Mieczysław Benek also thinks the withdrawal is a trap. There will be minefields, booby traps and ambushes everywhere, he thinks, and is not sure if the Ukrainians will be fooled or not.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Upon reflection, and I have made a small update to the post, I think the big trap is a flood. Russia controls the dam. Agreed Russia likely has more surgical nasties in place too. Cleaning up after a flood is a big and costly task, so probably only to be used if it can do lots of damage to Ukraine forces. Kherson is still a Black Sea port, if not the biggest, and thus has value.

      1. Skip Intro

        The dam may be a primary concern. Presumably the AFU will stop targeting it when they are camping in the floodplain. The long-term consequences of successful destruction of the dam would not just mean serious/fatal cooling problems for ZPP but also years of thirst for Crimea which reportedly gets a lot of water from the reservoir. It may be worth it for Russia to protect the damn dam.

      2. Tom Stone

        If the UKE’s take Kherson, what are they going to do with it?
        They can’t use it as a jumping off point as long as the Russians hold the upstream dam without risking their troops being washed into the black sea.
        And taking the dam away from the Russians before they can open the flood gates doesn’t seem likely.
        If they just decide to hold it they are going to have to dedicate a large portion of their surviving logistics network to supply it.
        The Russians will be behind a river in successive well prepared defensive lines, a good place to season some of those newly mobilized reserves while freeing up your blooded troops.
        And Surovikin is the kind of General every poor bloody infantryman wants to serve under, one who seldom wastes the lives of his soldiers needlessly and who unflinchingly spends their lives to achieve victory.

        1. Bsn

          And, though the Russians might leave Kherson, they could use a naval/air attack force to take or establish themselves in Odesa looking east to include Kherson and Mykolaiv in an encirclement operation. Only speculation on my part.

    2. Old Sovietologist

      I suspect that advanced detachments of the Ukrainian Army have now entered Kherson City.

      Zelensky’s arrival in Kherson with the military generals, journalists and television cameras, will happen in the next two days.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Please do not present personal speculation as fact. You are doing a disservice to readers and requiring me to spend time better spent on new posts cleaning up after your comments. My time is better spent on new posts.

        Zelensky is suspicious:

        President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday, Nov. 9, Ukraine was moving “very carefully” after Russia announced it was pulling out of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.

        “The enemy does not give us gifts, does not make ‘goodwill gestures’, we win it all,” Zelensky said in his daily address.

        “Therefore, we are moving very carefully, without emotions, without unnecessary risk, in the interests of liberating all our land and so that the losses are as small as possible.”

      2. Greg

        It would be a bold move given how thoroughly covered by russian artillery and missiles kherson will remain.
        Another check of “is Zelensky worth keeping alive” i guess.

  5. The Rev Kev

    Been thinking about this development today as my regular briefing email from the Russian General Staff failed to drop into my email box today. So I will throw out a theory. Yes, it is a trap but not the one that people are thinking off. The Ukrainians are wary as they have been burned far too many times with Russian “retreats”- sometimes literately so. To occupy Kherson, they would have to advance through muddy fields out in the open and that just does not work. I think that the Ukrainians tried nine such attacks yesterday which all failed. Even if the city was unoccupied, they would have to station a fair number of troops to occupy it as well as the surrounding territory. And they would have to run in logistical support for them all.

    But what if the actual trap was for the Collective West. Consider. Taking Kherson would be a massive propaganda victory for the Ukrainians. If taken advantage of – they are telling themselves – this could lead to a complete collapse of the Russian forces in that country. And if that happened, there would be that tasty prize – Putin being blamed and then being deposed. Then the West could dictate to Russia the terms of any treaty. So the wires will be hot with messages from Washington to Kiev – Attack! Attack! Attack! More to the point, and with everything at stake, the west will pour in everything that they can send the Ukrainians whether they can afford to send it or not. They will run down their own military stocks of everything from 155mm shells to APCS to helicopters. Neocons know no off-ramps and only know how to double down.

    And so they will send everything that they have in the way of weapons and resources. They can win! It may mean too that any further plots that the west has planned against Russia – like the Crimean Bridge – will also be advanced in timeline which might mean insufficient preparation. And when the west has committed all that gear and the ground has frozen, the Russians will go in and take it all away. And when it is over, NATO will have nothing in the cupboards to try to overawe the Russians with.

    1. Tom Stone

      Anyone who thinks they can Overawe the Russian People has been smoking Jimson weed and soothing their throat with denatured alcohol.

    2. Peter VE

      My great great great uncle marched in triumph into Moscow in 1812, only to end up barely escaping with his life across the Neiman 4 months later. Lessons the Russians have not forgotten.

    1. The Rev Kev

      It would have to be a temporary deal rather than the shape of a final fixed line. There is no way that the Russians could accept the Ukraine being in a position to resume artillery bombardment of places like Donetsk city, the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the Black Sea Fleet and Crimea itself in a moment’s notice. The US is already setting up a new command in Germany that will be tasked to keep the war in the Ukraine going for like forever-

      In any case, agreements imply trust and there is absolutely none for the US, the EU and particularly the Ukraine.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, Escobar does not have insider contacts. Tell me how he has a line to Sullivan. Escobar has also been wrong in other calls. He’s way way way ahead of the likely timetable for the demise of the dollar and the rise of new non-US dominated financial system. His 50,000 observations have merit but he’s very ideological and not sufficiently interested in details, particularly operational details, that constrain what is possible, at least in the near and intermediate term.

      Russia is winning, both on the energy front and with the West’s inability to stop the dismantling of the Ukraine grid. The mud season likely means Russia has time to get most of its Kherson troops out. Dima claims Russia evacuated 150,000 civilians in a few weeks. Even if it’s only 75,000, that’s estimated at 5X the number of troops Russia has left in Kherson.

      And if you have been watching the daily updates, Ukraine has been probing in Kherson oblast way to the east of Kherson city. They are not pushing to take it save by making it unoccupiable by the Russians via flooding and by comparatively low cost actions, as in shelling.

      Put it another way: it is not impossible that Escobar is on to something but it seems more likely he is being spun to promote a narrative that the West is oh so amenable to talking. If there were a deal on, it would be leaked to preferred outlets, not an indy writer who is actively hostile to the current order. The vocal Ukraine leeriness is consistent with these doubts.

      1. tgs

        I agree. Moreover, Escobar writes:

        The Dnieper will be – in thesis – the settled and negotiated frontline.

        That does not really square with the Ukainians and others suspecting that the withdrawal may be a hoax.

  6. GW

    I assume Russia definitely intends to evacuate Kherson. I’m not happy with this development. But my guess is, just possibly, a strategic repositioning of forces south of the Dniepr could bode well for Russia. It all depends on what, really, are the facts on the ground, particularly with respect to Ukraine’s seemingly successful offensives since September.

    Russian sources have been claiming that their army is heavily outnumbered all across the 800 mile front, including at Kherson. They say this misbalance in troop numbers explains why Ukraine’s managed to gain ground in Kharkov and Kherson. The Russians also argue that the situation will radically change no later than December, when their army is finally reinforced by 300,000 additional troops.

    If Russian sources are telling the truth, and they’ve correctly judged battle realities, then IMO evacuating Kherson is good move. It eliminates a vulnerable position west of the Dniepr (in the city), and establishes what is probably an impregnable defensive line south of the river. This readjustment of the front sets up Russia to retake the initiative after being fully reinforced in December.

    On the other hand, maybe Ukraine’s (presumed) superiority in troop numbers is not the reason Russia’s been forced on the defensive. Western sources (see Pat Buchanan’s recent opinion piece) argue Ukraine’s advancing because of superior NATO weaponry, such as the HIMARS, and due to Russian military inefficiency. If so, then Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson could very well be the start of a series of reversals and retreats culminating in Ukraine capturing Zaporozhyzhe, Melitopol, Mariupol, all Donbass, and possible even Crimea. Put bluntly, maybe abandoning Kherson is evidence the Russian army cannot win in the field against the UAF.

    I don’t know quite what to think.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ukraine has not been taking ground in Kherson except trivially. Russia has repeatedly been repelling attacks generally with heavy losses to Ukraine. Admittedly Russia did cede a couple of small settlements yesterday. If Kherson is a trap, this may be to feed the appearance of weakness. It’s not consistent with the pattern of recent weeks when the Russian lines in Kherson and elsewhere are hardening and logistics are improving.

      It is also looking like Russian Telegram is increasingly infested with Ukraine disinfo. Look at the freakout over the Russian flag being taken down from an abandoned building. in Kherson. It took about three days to tamp that down even though it was debunked within hours.

      Another way out of proportion flap was the attack on Pavlovka (sp?) near Ugledar. Ugledar is very important, lIke the earlier city that begins with P which I cannot pull due to being very tired and “Pavlovka” eating my brain. Anyway, the earlier P was on a high spot, Russia taking it gave it control of a key area.

      Anyway, Russia is attacking Pavlovaka to get to Ugledar. Apparently no very good ways to go about it. Attack reportedly incurred high losses (by Russian, not Ukraine, standards). Magistrate from a region from which a lot of soldiers hailed called MoD for answer. Deaths not high but a lot of minor injuries, likely shrapnel. Many of the injured already back in service.

      So again back to the disinfo. Big amplification of a letter supposedly by a soldier there whinging about the bad strategy and why weren’t the generals accountable? First, Russian generals do get sacked, unlike American. Second, letter had grammar no native Russian speaker would use, so smacked of being a fake. Third, most Russians thought the premise of the letter was silly. There is a local expression that is analogous to writing a letter to the lotto complaining about not winning that was applied to this case.

      This again was ratting around for days and amplified by Western YouTubers and even the press.

      Both in the last month.

      This is the reason Andrei Martyanov deems Telegram to be worse than useless with the exception of a very few sources.

  7. OIFVet

    Tactically, the move makes sense. The Dnieper is a natural defensive feature. What is interesting is the continuing build-up of troops in Belarus. These forces can be used for any number of tasks and purposes: deterrence against NATO, real (this time) push toward Kiev to force settlement, attack toward Kharkov (matched by push from the south and east against Dnepro, or simply to pressure Kiev. Dunno. They have a plan and no doubt any number of things are happening that we know nothing about. In any case, this is far from over – Russia has claimed the entirety of Kherson and Ukraine has vowed to retake all territories, including Crimea. Then there is the continuing drive to expand NATO. Any peace can only come when one side (NATO or Russia, Ukraine being just a pawn) is completely exhausted in terms of ability to supply weapons and materiel. We shall live and we shall see, as Russians say.

  8. Safety First

    The problem with Kherson withdrawal, from a purely military standpoint, is that you are trading operational for strategic considerations.

    Operationally, the Russian army is extricating itself from a difficult supply situation and avoiding the possibility of having a strong Ukrainian force collapse the right flank of the bridgehead (striking from Dudchany down along the Dnieper) and trapping anyone still in Kherson in an almost-cauldron. Instead, now they are going to get a solid defensive position, the Dnieper, plus much better logistics for the defenders, which will also enable them to take some units out of the line to constitute a strategic reserve.


    First, now the chances of an attack in the direction of Nikolaev and Odessa – from the south – are next to nil. There is very little chance the Russians will attempt an amphibious assault across the Dnieper to re-establish themselves in the areas they are presently withdrawing from, which means that they are basically giving up on any significant offensive operations in the south for the time being. While also enabling Ukrainians to rotate their troops attacking Kherson and defending Nikolaev to other sectors of the front. I am not even mentioning what any of this means for Transnistria, the land bridge to which is, for now, pretty much a pipe dream.

    Even worse, Kherson, technically, is now Russian territory (in the eyes of Russian laws, at least). How, pray tell, are they planning to get it back? If they are not going to recapture it, i.e. take it by force, then what’s left is forcing Ukraine to capitulate with the subsequent peace deal restoring Russian control over these areas (but not Odessa-Nikolaev, by the way). But how are you going to force Kiev to capitulate if you’ve just given up on conducting any meaningful offensive operations in the south? By striking down from Belarus? By slowly grinding through the Kharkov and Donetsk regions? By eventually capturing all of left-bank Ukraine and only then forcing a crossing of the Dnieper? The situation is now unclear at best.

    Again, the moment the Russians admitted Kherson and Zaporozh’e regions, the war’s objectives changed. Note, by the way, that Putin himself hasn’t uttered words like “denazification” and “demilitarization” during the recent four-hour (!!) Valdai Club pow-wow. If Moscow gives up these newly annexed territories now, it will be a tremendously bad look domestically. So…

    …either Surovikin and his minions can put together a really striking blow to give Russia a strategic advantage and move things along towards forcing a capitulation, or the war is descending into a stalemate of attrition, where the Ukrainians won’t give up and the Russians cannot afford to give up. But the point is, the Kherson retreat, while having clear operational merits, has significantly complicated their strategic options.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia must have a bridgehead at the Kakhovka dam to control it. I am not good on map sources but the ones I found looked like Russian troops held terrain a decent area to the north of the dam. So they have another position, a bit further to the east, that is also on the desirable side of the Dnieper.

      By contrast, they were having to move everything to Kherson across pontoon bridges and boats. My impression is that is OK for a small to medium sized advance, but not the sort of agglomeration Russia would need to stage an attack on Mikolaev (30,000 at least, with lots of tanks and artillery).

      What matters for Russians advances above all is rail lines to move tanks, troops, and other materiel. Any other way is less efficient. There are rail lines from Kherson to Mikolayev (sp, sorry I can barely type I am so tired so forgive my failure to check and correct names). There is no advantage to using Kherson as a base for operations to the west despite its proximity if it can be flooded. A quick search shows that flooding does foundational damage to rail lines that can take weeks to months to repair.

      There is a road and rail line over the Kakhovka dam.

      And the appearance of pulling out of Kherson also gives Ukraine less reason to use its limited supply of HIMARS on it.

      1. John k

        If Russia needs the rail line over the dam for the offensive after the ground freezes it should be a prime target for Ukraine missiles etc. if Ukraine/nato can’t manage to take that out it’s the beginning of the end.
        No power makes Kiev unlivable for both citizens and defenders. I would assume Kherson would have power capability removed as Russians leave, what could Ukraine army do inside a city without power and difficult supply lines? Certainly seems to tie down a large force that would eventually be encircled if Russia bypasses Kherson when it moves to Odessa.
        The flood of refugees heading west will clog the roads and make it difficult for Ukraine army to move men/material east to the front, particularly given the minimum number of working locomotives.
        Life looks to be difficult for eu as well as Ukraine as winter arrives. Imo western analysts thinking winter will be quiet and maybe good time for negotiations are mistaken.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      ‘Godwin’s Law’ is just like ‘O’Donnell’s Law” – just a made up thing, with no real application except that it suits some people some times. That is in fact the definition of ‘O’Donnell’s Law’.

  9. Michael Fiorillo

    While a retreat from Kherson may be to the tactical advantage of the Russians, it flies in the face of all the talk of immiment Ukrainian collapse and Russian victory we’ve been hearing from Mercouris, Christoforou, Berletic, Ritter, Lira and others. Mercouris was predicting the fall of Bakhmut months ago, yet here we are, looking at unexpected Russian withdrawals in strategically important regions. Let’s face it: the Ukes seem to be doing a lot better than expected, whatever the likelihood of Russia’s ultimate prevailing.

    The fog of war is real, we really don’t know very much about what is going on, and governments lie to themselves and everyone else; in view of that, humility in our opinions and predictions would serve us well.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The front line is 1500 miles. I think many analysts have failed to grapple with its scale. And nine months is not very long for a war. The day to day reporting may have led some war newbies to forget that (Berletic who does have military experience has not as far as I can tell predicted a time but has been describing the many factors that point to diminishing capacity)

      The big losses in the last Kherson offensive (the WaPo of all places reported how badly Ukraine was outgunned) says Ukraine is getting closer to its limits. Russia has said in the Donbass area, some units are as much as 70% foreign mercs. There are reports that mercs are refusing to go to the Kherson front, having seen what a pigeon shoot the last offensive was.

      Recall Ukraine has called up another 100,000 to replenish its forces. That has generally been seen as an admission of total deaths and casualties so far. But it could conceivably also reflect net reductions in mercs (Jacques Baud said mercs have alway been a big part of Ukraine forces. He said 40% after Ukraine started bulking up after its 2014-2015 defeats in Donbass. That # seems astonishingly high but this is his beat and he was a NATO adjunct back then and so would know).

      We have pointed out repeatedly that there can be a long time when a war is lost before the fighting is over. Germany was done as of the Battle of Kursk but VE Day was two years later.

      1. Tom Stone

        I wonder how well the Mercs are paid?
        And whether there are many specialist Merc groups working for PMC’s in Ukraine.
        Some of the men I was training with when Iraq was invaded ended up working in the GreenZone for Steele and DyneCorps and their pay and benefits were very nice.

        1. ChrisPacific

          I suspect for every one that’s a professional soldier there are ten who are regular people with pretensions of glory who have been inspired by the ‘coverage’ and want to help out Ukraine and sign up to fight for the cause. The militaristic far right types seem especially susceptible to this. There have been a handful of human interest stories here on cases like that, and if it’s happening here I’m sure it’s happening all over the world as well.

          In the vast majority of cases they end up killed in action shortly after, and it turns into a pseudo-obituary and story about the family trying to recover the body. There was one recently about a guy that was turned away by the Ukraine military due to lacking training and experience, but he moved into the field until he found a unit that was willing to take him. Very shortly afterward he was reported dead.

          1. anon in so cal

            Col MacGregor repeated his claim that the US has a coalition of 90,000 well-trained troops across the border ready to move into Ukraine, including US troops.

            MacGregor had earlier said that “US troops sent into Ukraine under the guise of tracking donated weapons “is beginning to look a little like an advance party for this very dangerous proposition that a multinational ‘coalition of the willing will eventually go into Western Ukraine.”

            Not sure if this is a factor in the Kherson decision-making.

            The bottom line is we don’t know what is occurring or what Russia’s plans are. Everyone is trying to make a valid estimate based on very limited second-hand data.

            I am also wondering if Scott Ritter’s much earlier assessments might have been accurate. Early on, Ritter said that the introduction of increasing amounts of lethal US and NATO weapons was changing the calculus and that this could have a detrimental effect. At the time, he seemed to get shouted down and he then backed off of that assessment. I realize there is skepticism about the effectiveness and amount of US/NATO weaponry and that supplies are low.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              That is not what MacGregor said. He gave the composition and some are Romanian, meaning they’d need to be deployed to Poland join the others. A potential force. They are not “ready to move” but more like “could be shortly moved”. Remember the press was all over Russia moving ~100,000 troops to the Ukraine border in March-April 2021. We’d have reports if troops were being massed, if nothing else from the very nervous Russian Telegram.

      2. Exiled_in_Boston

        ‘But it could conceivably reflect net reductions in mercs…’
        Does this include the Wagner Group?

  10. Wlodek

    Reading through on the subject, one thing is hinted on several times but not explicitly stated or rather asked: What will be or what can be Ukraine’s (or US/Nato) reaction and next move(s). Whether Russian army will in fact relocate or not, they have made their move so to speak. Now its the other side’s turn and it seems like the collective West as well as Ukraine are baffled so it would confirm that there is or there was no good plan in place to deal with this turn of events. If you have your opponent guessing then you already achieved to throw them off balance. Same as in a game of chess, when one side makes an unexpected move that theoretically is a mistake, an inexperienced player will fall for it immediately and try to take advantage of it. A smart and experienced but middle class player will not jump the gun but will try to figure out why the move was made and if it is not a trap. They will take some time to anylyze the possibilities to avoid making a costly mistake themselves. A champion or master on the other hand will either know immediately or have a preplanned strategy to deal with the unexpected. The West and Ukraine’s reaction seems to suggest that they are not champions in this case. It will take some time for them to figure it out which at a minimum gives Russians the time to prepare the next move. Strategically it should be an advantage to be at least one move ahead. And forget the optics. The Russian side including president Putin clearly stated on several occasions that any PR is meaningless to them and they do not care what the collective West thinks or says. Thinking that Russian decisions are based on optics is simply a projection of the West and some harkening to the Cold War time when some Eastern Bloc countries tried to look good and civilized in the eyes of the West. Their leadership would worry that if they cracked down on internal dissent for example how would the West react. This often tied their hands and forced them to make bad decisions. Goal achieved by the West. So I would forget the political “damage” or bad optics on the Russian side. All main players: Putin, Lavrov, Shoigu and others as well as their spokepersons have clearly stated repeatedly and in absolute terms that all stated goals of the SMO will be achieved. Period. For the Russian side, everything else is only means to this end. This can go through a series of successes and failures, advancments and retreats but they are also already factored in. The only thing that really counts is that the stated goal is achieved. I believe it will be. If it were not the case than Russia would most likely not have made the decision to start this in the first place. One indication is that they waited for 8 years to be sure they can end this successfully. My two cents for today from an “observation post” in Poland. Cheers to all in the community and beyond.

    1. nippersdad

      Small quibble: I don’t think that Russia wanted to “start this”; Putin seemed quite angry when he was faced with those Ukrainian troops about to invade Donbass last February. I think the decision was thrust upon him, as planned by such as William Burns, who realized that he would have little choice but to go in on the side of the Donbass rather than have NATO right on their borders. The fact that they go on ad nauseum here in the Western Operation Mockingbird press about “unprovoked invasions” gives the lie to their propaganda.

      I think no one was as surprised to see how well they were doing than the Russians, themselves. Burns should have stuck with his initial analyses.

  11. Kristiina

    The dam thing makes this retreat look like a chess move. Save water for Crimea, force Ukrainians to accept threat of getting flooded. Spin it this way or that, all can declare what they wish: Russian defeat, Ukraine gaining ground, strategic move, whatever you want. Whoever is in that place will always be downstream from a big dam. It looks kinda sly.

  12. V V Gerasimov

    You obviously can’t understand military operations at any level without also understanding basic geography — especially the height of terrain features (hence the universal tactical imperative to “hold the high ground”).
    This whole conversation has missed the crucial fact that the west bank of the Dnieper River is much higher than the east bank — thus there is no possibility of flooding the west side of the river. Any high water would inundate the flood plain to the east, which would cause the heavy artillery stationed there to displace and would disrupt fire support to the forces holding west of the river — not to mention also causing havoc with the supply lines leading up to the choke points of the bridges and ferries crossing the Dnieper, many of which would be damaged/washed away if the Brits do manage to break the big Kakhovskaya dam.
    That is the problem that General Surovikin is pre-empting by his managed withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnieper now vs the chaos of a forced retreat after the SHTF from a massive dam break.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is not what the many simulations of a flood show. While I am sure you are correct that the west side has higher ground than on the east, the areas that would be flooded are primarily on the west side. And that affects sanitation as well as transit.

      1. V V Gerasimov

        Here is a map modeling the results of the flooding from a break of the Kakhovskaya dam. The only inundation of the west bank that I can see occurs where the river just north of Kherson flows into the Dnieper, and its relatively minor.
        The article begins with the statement:
        “A worst case modelling for a Russian demolition of the Nova Kakhovka Dnipro river dam show that the worst flooding will take place on the left (south east) side of the river bank.”
        The animated map of the projected flooding is quite interesting, especially re the big backflow up the Bug River.

        1. juno mas

          This whole conversation has missed the crucial fact that the west bank of the Dnieper River is much higher than the east bank — thus there is no possibility of flooding the west side of the river

          I’m looking at Kherson on Google Earth as I write. It appears you transposed east vs. west bank. The east bank (Russian position) appears to be the higher ground immediately adjacent to the river course.) This higher ground is mostly the Black Sea Nature Preserve, and to the north, the Oleshky Sands Nature park (essentially sand dunes).

          1. V V Gerasimov

            Somehow I did not include the link to the map I mentioned above. Here it is:


            It shows that the majority of the water would inundate the east bank (a few weeks ago Andrei Martyanov had a similar, more graphic static map showing the same result more clearly).


            Below Zaporizhzhya the Dnieper again passes into a wide valley with a high right bank (130 feet [40 metres] near Nikopol, 260 feet [80 metres] near Kherson).

            The right (west bank) of the river is generally higher than the east bank all the way north to Kiev. An old chestnut about WW II is that “if the Todt organization had begun fortifying the west bank of the Dnieper in 1942, the Germans would still be defending that line today….”

            1. juno mas

              Again, I’m looking at the area (Kherson) in Google Earth. What is actually flooding in the model is the old (ancient) river course of the Dnipro. This is the broad floodplain created by a natural river as it experiences extreme flood events over decades. The dam upstream has eliminated these river course changes.

              While there is some development in this ancient flood plain, it is mostly a nature preserve.

              However, the flooding would create difficult retreat opportunities for the RF forces, and the planned retreat from Kherson City appears wise.

    2. elkern

      I find V V G’s point here to be very credible. I have read elsewhere (MoA?) that the South/East side of the Dnieper has generally lower elevation than the North/West side, and this fits with what I see on Goog Maps. I found the original by Googing the long quote in V V G’s reply below, and the simulation looks reasonable (though it’s interesting and perhaps relevant that the Swedish source assumes that Russia -rather than Ukraine – would blow the Kakhovskaya Dam).

      The simulation shows more *area* flooded on the South/East side, but an industrial area (incl (oil?) tank farm) in the southern corner of Kherson city would be pretty much wiped out, so the North/West side faces serious damage, too.

      For Russia, backing out of Kherson reduces the tactical threat (cauldron) posed by the vulnerability of the dam. Giving up Kherson (city) makes Ukraine responsible for it, giving Ukraine some reason to leave the dam in place. Even then, though, the dam is more important to Russia: without it, Crimea gets real thirsty, and the ZNPP can’t run.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Rivers in that part of the world meander so much that the convention is to call the banks left and right when looking from the headwater to the estuary. Thus it won’t matter which way to river turns, the right bank is always the right bank and left bank is always the left bank.

        That said, the most of the area that would be flooded downstream Kahovka is marshland. Buildings right along the right bank seem to be mostly (summer?) villas, and there’s also about 1.5 to 2 meter concrete bank protecting most inhabited places.

        Since the Dniepr is 3-4 kilometers wide here (including the wetlands), I don’t think the elevations of the respective banks give much advantage to either side. Across ZNPP the right bank is 60-80 meters higher and yet the Ukrainians are shooting mostly blindly and failing with their landing attempts.

  13. hk

    I found it amusing that this was a major news, at least as far as foreign news went, on South Korean TV (in Korean, anyways). Of course, this is to say that this was not a “major” news item since they have other (domestic or near domestic) stuff going on that take precedence, but I also found it peculiar that they were using a more bombastic language than even those found in in the English coverage (and I’d been finding that SK coverage of Ukraine has been weirdly bombastic in general in favor of Ukraine).

  14. Rainlover

    As Alexander Mercouris often says, “I am not a military expert.” I recently finished Vasily Grossman’s two novels about the battle for Stalingrad in WWII, respectively Stalingrad and Life and Fate. Grossman was a journalist during the war and had firsthand knowledge of the events he includes in his novels, which were banned in the Soviet Union until Stalin died precisely because they were so accurate.

    My point is this retreat from Kherson reminds me of Russian tactics used in the battle for Stalingrad. The general in charge of the Russian forces retreated across the Volga from Stalingrad, leaving a small force behind in the city. The big guns of the Russian artillery were then positioned on the east bank and pounded the city day and night, while the Germans bombed the Russian positions in the city. The small force left behind fought hand to hand battles in the streets, blocking the German advance. Eventually the Russians brought in massive reinforcements from the north to retake the city, which was mostly destroyed in the battle.

    Russian military history is replete with tactical retreats that eventually led to the enemy’s demise. I think we have to be patient and see what develops here. The Ukrainians are right to be cautious.

    1. Andrew

      Excellent book, Grossmans account really brought out the spirit of Soviet Peoples in a way I had not appreciated before. WWII was a tough time, Stalin was a hard leader, but the cooperation and sacrifice Grossmans novel depicts exists above the histrionics or politics. The human condition both high and low.
      I think it is probably the best WW2 I’ve read, and since you have mentioned it I will be reading it again.
      What could go wrong? A sprawling two volume Russian novel as the first snows are setting in. I’m lucky.

  15. HH

    The big question in my mind is why the Russians cannot concentrate overwhelming force to take key objectives. The under-performance of their air force seems to be a main reason. Supposedly the presence of Ukrainian mobile SAM systems is preventing effective air support, but these are older systems, and the Russians should have developed effective countermeasures against them. Absent heavy aerial bombing of Ukrainian strong points, the Russians are resorting to conventional artillery barrages, which take longer and are difficult to coordinate. Until this problem is solved, it is hard to see how the Russians can make rapid progress.

    1. Stephen

      I would be interested in understanding what manned aircraft delivered munitions deliver (per western war making model) versus unmanned missiles and massed artillery (Russian model). Recognising that the difference in doctrines is not quite so hard and fast.

      Certainly, the destruction to cost ratio must be higher in the Russian model but I might be missing something. Both approaches seem to be able to hit the targets they are aimed at.

      Am not convinced the Russian problem you state really is a problem.

      1. HH

        The arithmetic of explosive power is clear. An artillery shell contains just a fraction of the explosive in a typical aerial bomb. Large aircraft bombs can collapse entire buildings. Russian air-dropped fuel-air bombs are enormously powerful and could blow big holes in Ukrainian defenses, but I haven’t seen reports of their use. Why the Russians can’t jam or decoy the old Ukrainian Buk, Osa, and S300 SAMs is a mystery.

        1. Polar Socialist

          I believe it was only yesterday that Russian drone discovered two companies of Ukrainian tanks accompanied by a few dozen IFVs, armored cars and light vehicles rolling forward to attempt a break trough of Russian positions in Zaporozhye region.

          Allegedly the columns were stopped by SU-25s hitting them with big bombs. Then Smersh rocket batteries opened up with 300 mm rockets using Motiv-3M anti-tank submunition. And finally the heavy artillery pounded the withdrawing Ukrainians all the way back to heir lines. Ukrainians lost 3 tanks, 6 IFVs and armored cars and a plenty of Azovites in those pick-up cars. No Russian casualties were reported.

    2. schmoe

      Commentators state that Russia is grossly deficient in laser or GPS-guided bombs. I am not sure if that refers to quantity or issues that limit the precision. Given that, Russia might as well deliver HEs via artillery instead of risking its air force. I do agree with your comment that the lack of countermeasures is odd.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That claim is badly informed and goes along with “Russia is running out of weapons.” Russia offensive missiles and air defenses are way ahead of anything the West has. Western doctrine relies on planes to achieve air supremacy. Russia has invested heavily in layered offensive and defensive missiles. They even have their own GPS so they can afford to signal jam ours.

      2. Polar Socialist

        Russians have Kh-25, Kh-29, Kh-38 and Kh-58. Both Kh-25 and Kh-38 are modular in the sense that the homing can be one of laser, satellite, infrared, tv or anti-radar.

        I don’t know how many there are each in Russian inventory, but it’s my understanding that they don’t actually fit that well into the Russian ground support doctrine. Which is basically to operate from very forward bases, go in fast and get out fast. One simply does not hang around the battlefield to wait a missile hit the target. Plus laser guidance doesn’t really don’t work well in a bad weather.

        That said, these missiles have been used in Chechnya, Syria and Ukraine. So Russians do use them when the situation warrants (eyes on target and human on the loop) but why risk a plane and a pilot when a Lancet or Geran can do the job?

      3. Greg

        Russian aircraft have dedicated targeting computers for dumb bombs, the targeting packages are not in the bombs. This is a cost saving measure, you only blow up the cheap bits. This design tactic causes western commentators who are just tallying up munitions to underestimate the accuracy of Russian airstrikes.

  16. Stephen

    Good article, thanks. Agree fully that this is fog of war.

    My read for what it is worth is that Russia is playing a long term attritional game here. This whole conflict is deadly serious for them and seen as a true existential threat. They plan to win the overall campaign but that means they will be flexible tactically and withdraw from territory that is militarily not important. This seems very unlike Western European campaigns where typically most territory matters because you have limited room for maneuver. In WW1 the British desperately defended the horrible Ypres salient for years: partly for politics but also because losing it would have threatened the supply route back to the channel ports. Kherson seems to have many of the disadvantages of such a position, plus a river at the rear but no obvious military benefit.

    When we look at the history of Eastern Front campaigns across WW2, WW1, the Napoleonic Wars and back to the Great Northern War then this seems always to have been the case. The Swedish denouement was at Poltava of all places in modern day Ukraine (I think it still is there…). During the Napoleonic Wars Kutuzov and Barclay de Tolly constantly gave up territory. On the retreat from Moscow they even chose to harry the French far more than seek decisive battle: let the opposition destroy itself. Contrary to western popular myth, conservation of force and saving Russian lives were key objectives. I suspect there is very similar thinking here by a commanding general and his staff who will be well versed in the lessons of prior Eastern Front campaigns. Even the current Russian heavy emphasis on its artillery arm compared to many other armies has a clear lineage from the earlier conflicts too.

    Of course, the senior Ukrainian commanders share exactly the same military heritage, which may partly explain any caution in now occupying Kherson. But they seem under the thumb of US / western gung ho military doctrine of Blitzkrieg type advances so we will see. Russian doctrine is clearly not that.

    We can read precisely nothing militarily from this move. Politically, I suspect it will be managed. Just as in the Napoleonic Wars, there was tremendous elite unease at the various withdrawals but ultimately things came right and Russian troops were in Paris eighteen months later.

    1. Stephen

      I will correct myself. Jomini said that retreating is the most difficult military operation. That was from having seen it during the 1812-4 campaign. If the Russians retreat from this position with limited / no losses of men and materiel then it probably does show that they have the total strategic initiative in this campaign. In other words, if Ukraine is unable even to make their retreat tricky and take advantage beyond lobbing a few HIMARS from long range then that does give us a deep insight. Of course, western media, retired generals (except Scot Ritter and Douglas MacGregor) and propaganda think tanks will not choose to dwell on such points.

    2. Polar Socialist

      It’s my understanding that all Soviet era officers have been purged from the Ukrainian military by now. After 2014 they were very with the NATO doctrine and training imposed on Ukrainian army and did a lot to hamper the development.
      Some say it was because they were afraid the new thing made them obsolete, some say it was because they deemed it inferior and unsuitable for Ukraine and some say they were just pro-Russian anyway so who cares what they though.

      1. Stephen

        I am sure that is correct. I checked that even Zaluzhyni graduated after the U.S.S.R. ended too. Time flies too quickly! I would imagine that the training that people such as he received would still have been Soviet in style but no doubt NATO approaches now dominate and the army is trained to fight that way.

      2. Old Sovietologist

        Correct PS. The old Soviet senior officers were purged or have been retired since 2014, This is NATO Army now.

        Zaluzhnyi is the American man and Zelensky is the Brits man. As much as I despise Zelensky, Zaluzhnyi is a nasty piece of work and the personification of new breed of European neo fascist.

    3. Old Sovietologist

      “Russia is playing a long term attritional game here”.

      I will go further. Russia is expecting to fight the US/NATO directly sooner rather than later. When you look from that perspective you can see the retreat from Kherson as a mere footnote in this conflict.

      Or maybe those who say Putin is desperate for peace and a way-out will be proved right.

      1. Stephen

        I agree. They are already fighting NATO / the US in all respects other than openly recognised troops on the ground.

        I believe Putin would like peace but he likely knows that any “agreement” made today in the absence of Russian victory will just be a truce.

  17. neutrino

    Kherson’s population has been evacuated, according to most, if not all information sources. In this state, can Kherson still present an economic or military interest to Ukraine ? Or, could this retreat be viewed as a modernized version of the scorched earth tactics used by Russia against Napoleon ?

  18. Tom Hickey

    Don’t get overshadowed by the optics. While this is a tactical retreat it is based on a strategic withdrawal. Russia was neither forced out of Kherson and certainly not driven out. This was a strategic move in positional warfare to position oneself more advantageously. It would have been unwise not to do so, as Ramzan Kadyrov observes.

    Moreover, this conflict is not just about Ukraine or even about Ukraine independently of the big picture. It is a piece in a geopolitical struggle over the world system. To paraphrase Clausewitz, war is an extension of politics. In geopolitics and geostrategy that means that where are a lot of balls in the air to juggle. Perhaps a better metaphor would be knives. While the conduct of the conflict (it is not yet a war) rests with Surovikin as commander on the ground and defense minister Shoigu, the geopolitics and geostrategy is the responsibly of Putin as president of Russia. In this he is advised by many people in addition to defense.

    The conflict is actually a side-issue in the big picture and even decisive victory in Ukraine would not accomplish Russia’s major objectives. So don’t get caught up in the minutiae, but rather keep your eye on the big picture and listen to people that understand it rather than the armchair generals — and, especially, don’t pay attention to the ankle-biters. Also be aware that the vast majority of open-source information is part of the information war. The US and UK are fighting an information war primarily, whereas Russia is fighting a real one.

    Presently, unipolarism is weakening and multipolarism strengthening in my estimation. This is what counts in the long run. The Global North/West and Global South/East are well aware of this struggle over the future of the world order.

    1. Old Sovietologist

      This war is not between Russia and Ukraine, it never was, but between NATO and Russia with the blood of deceived Ukrainians.

      Let’s be clear though a significant part of the Russian elite at various levels are completely on the side of the West and wish Russia to lose. There are many who dream of returning to the world of yesterday’s glamour at any cost, not realizing their time has passed. However, this does not prevent them from working towards it.

      The collective West does not plan to negotiate with Russia, its only goal is its Ukrainization, that is, the destruction of Russia as a sovereign state.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      Exactly. The Russian Armed Forces are a real and dangerous organisation. They still think and operate in the real world, not the imaginary reality of the managerial ‘west’. It is particularly futile for us as commentators with, I suspect, usually no training in tactics or strategy (especially as evolved through the historical experience of the Russian War Office) to guess at what they are doing. Of course it is interesting, even exciting to speculate, but given that Russia has been planning such exercises probably since 1945, any such speculation is just as likely to be wrong as right. Further, Russia has currently a vast superiority to NATO in planes and especially missiles. See:
      for further info. And ‘Military Watch Magazine’ for details.

  19. Raymond Sim

    I recall that when the Russians announced they were commencing the withdrawal of their troops from Georgia, the fact that they had brought in fresh troops, who were establishing defensive lines forward of the existing ones, got flogged on the BBC as a scoop, showing they weren’t really leaving. But of course bringing in fresh troops and pushing your defenses forward is exactly how one commences a withdrawal in the face of the enemy, provided one has the troops and time to do it.

    All of which is to say, Russia’s recent actions in Kherson have all along looked like preparations for withdrawal as much as anything else. The lack of Ukrainian enthusiasm for exploiting it probably tells us more about the prudence of the action than any amount of cogitation-at-a-distance is likely to yield us.

    Defense in depth is a bit like Covid, in that there seems to be a willful blindness to its nature, and its ability to constrain and degrade the exercise of power.

  20. marku52

    One thing seems clear–HIMARS is more effective than we thought, and the R air defense has more holes in it than we thought. It seems that HIMARS allowed the UKR to destroy the bridges over the Dneiper and credibly threaten the dam. Russia could not stop them.

    It forced the evacuation of Kherson. As a result from a single weapon system, that is pretty impressive.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Russia has been getting better at intercepting them and was pretty good to start. My impression is now at best only 1 our of 5 are getting through.

          And dams are sturdiest at the bottom. Ukraine did have one hit a few days back on the dam, as indicated, but even if they got lucky and hit a lock, I doubt one lock would generate a big flood; knowledgable readers please correct me if I have that wrong. It may be that Russia sees the continuing strikes as a sign of Ukraine persistence and is more worried about Ukraine managing to hit the more critical, below water sections of the dam, perhaps with an underwater drone or man-placed explosives.

    1. JohnA

      If Himars are so effective, why is Ukraine using them to attack civilian areas of the Donbass? It suggests to me that most Himars fired at military targets get shot down and therefore Ukraine uses them purely for terrorism purposes in areas where there are no missile defence systems. At a time when Zelensky is forever begging the west for more money and materiel, ‘wasting’ Himars like this is otherwise totally illogical.

  21. Kouros

    What eats me from the beginning of this operation, and then more and more and more, is the fact that the Russians have not made any serious attempts to uproot the Ukrainians around Donetsk City.

    Yes, I understand that the Ukrainians are well entrenched and walled there. However, I have seen clips with the effect on the battlefield of the famous “flamethrowers” TOR systems Russians have, in Syria, and even in Ukraine in 2014. Just proximity to the impact is conducive to being turned into char. The bodies I have see were nightmarish… Russians could deal very fast with the entrenched Ukrainians in Avdeevka, etc. Why don’t they?

    1. Anon

      Might I suggest listening to Brian Berletic on the Gonzalo Lira roundtable today? He addresses this point in detail toward the end of the video. The basic idea is that both sides have these huge trenches, built over 8 years. What is very interesting is that if NATO decides to go forward they will have the same issues Russia is having. This is the same point with Kherson. Berletic is of the opinion this is the max NATO can advance in Kherson is the abandoned city because the Russians will be very well entranced across the river.

      Mercouris suggests the big battle in this war is Bahkmut, which is very slow going due to the trenches described by Berletic in detail.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Whatever fortifications are in Bahkmut, the Ukrainians had eight long years to build it – with NATO technical advice.

  22. elkern

    IMO, retreating from Kherson (City) implies that Russia is *not* going to take Odessa and the rest of the Ukrainian Black Sea coastline West of Kherson.

    The Dnieper is a great natural boundary; Ukraine will not be able to advance across it, and Russia won’t need huge forces to defend it. Russia will be able to shift forces to the Donbas, which is more important to them. This might be related to (potential? active?) talks with USA – either as a consequence of some preliminary partial agreement, or as a way of sending a message that Russia is looking for a “reasonable” settlement (regardless of US willingness to negotiate).

    Russia *really* wants to keep Crimea, which *really* needs water to keep flowing through the canal, so they *really* don’t want Ukraine/NATO to blow the Kakhovka Dam. Also, if the dam goes, the ZNPP will lose all cooling water and become an expensive toxic waste dump rather than a source of electricity for the new Russian territories.

    Through the whole “SMO”, Russia has kinda surprised me by emphasizing the importance of existing Oblast boundaries (State’s Rights!?), but it looks like that will change now. Kherson Oblast will be split, with the Dnieper as the new boundary between Russia & Ukraine there. Zaporizhzhia Oblast will probably be split, too, along an East-West line somewhere near the current Front. I do think that Russia will want – and take – all of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, but I doubt they will try to retake Kharkov or other areas in Eastern Ukraine.

    There is likely to be a lot of Kayfabe (from both sides) as diplomacy takes over in the next few months. There is also likely to be some serious fighting, with Russia needing to prove to NATO that it’s serious about taking and holding those territories, and Ukraine really not wanting to give them up.

    The USA is the key player here. With Midterms over, the Biden Admin *might* be willing and able to cut a deal. This will be politically suicidal for Biden – the GOP (with Trump fading) will attack him for “giving up Ukraine” – but I kinda think Biden is still smart enough to know that he shouldn’t run for President again anyway. There will be tremendous media and political pressure for a maximalist position against Russia; I hope Biden can resist that, because the alternatives is WWIII.

    1. Stephen

      With respect to Russian defences, Scott Ritter made the related point today that the east bank of the Dniepr is higher than the west. In his view that means that any Ukrainian advance can be dominated by Russian artillery from high ground. Might be part of the explanation too for why Ukraine is not rushing to occupy the territory that is being vacated.

      With respect to Odessa there are various alt media comments being made that this retreat means an advance there is not likely. If Kherson really was so tricky to supply across the river then practically it was never likely anyway to have been the springboard for an advance to Odessa that would need lots of logistical support. One suspects that an alternate axis may always have been needed.

      I am very sceptical of a deal being cut but it remains to be seen. The big issue for Putin is that this is a conflict with the US / wider NATO: a group of people who have demonstrated they are not agreement capable. Failure to implement the Minsk Accords and even boasting that doing so was never intended is sufficient evidence of that.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia will not do a deal because the US cannot be trusted. Russia is taking out the grid and will soon create a refugee crisis for Europe, on top of Europe’s own out of control power costs and possible rolling blackouts. There are many layers to this conflict. Until Russia has all of its mobilized forces in place and the ground has frozen, the battlefront is unlikely to be the most important theater, despite being the most eye-catching.

      You also forget that Russia has a bridgehead at the Kakhovskaya dam and it has a rail line and road going west from there. In addition, as has been widely reported, once Russia clears all the bunkers in Donbass, there are (or were) no barriers to the West to the Dnieper. Ukraine might try to throw up some new bunkers but it can’t create a Maginot Line now, particularly in mud season. Clearing Donbass is a political priority. Once that happens, Russia will have a lot more options.

  23. Quite Likely

    This feels like it’s really bending over backwards to spin events in Russia’s favor. Every mention of a territorial loss is accompanied with reasons why it’s actually not as big a deal as it seems, and really this is all a savvy Russian master plan.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You can’t rebut anything, You can only complain you don’t like where the analysis goes. That’s not an argument. It’s a whine and lazy to boot.

    2. Roland

      Yeah, to read a lot of what’s written about the war here, you’d think it’s all eleven-dimensional chess. But really it’s more like 360 degrees of suck. A world of suck, unbounded in all directions, where one’s only guide is a compass of spin.

      The Russians retreated from a battle that was going badly. Fortunately for them, the enemy appear unable to take advantage. That’s not surprising; the war has gone badly for the Ukrainians, too. Defeat is wretched. Victory is garbage.

      It’s possible, though, that RF is preparing a tactical nuclear kill zone. They got most of the civilians out, they got most of their troops out. It would also send a message about RF determination to go nuclear if there is a threat to what they now call their own soil, while doing so in a limited way, in territory that isn’t as really as Russian as the rest of Russia.

      Kherson is nukable, especially if you view the war, as some do both here and elsewhere, as one being fought for very big reasons.

      However, I see this war as one being fought for lesser reasons, but which has grown, as wars often do, from its own sunk costs. There are indeed large things at stake in the world, but even if you thought a war could win them, you would never have waged that war the way this one has been waged. There’s no master plan here, for any of the parties involved. It’s a crappy war, which they fight because they’re too scared to stop. The deeper the costs, the deeper the fear. Already, at this point, nobody can win a victory that would redeem what’s already been wasted.

      11/11. In Canada, we call it Remembrance Day. But what have we learned? Nothing. Vanity again proves stronger than Mind. We fear to lose our notion of what we think we are, and what we think ought to be, and we forsake everything else to keep those precious vanities intact.

  24. timbers

    IMO, many are missing the point vs what Russia set out to do. Russia has so far FAILED to accomplish her objectives. She has failed to demilitarize Ukraine which she could have done long ago by taking out infrastructure, and she has failed to denazify which she could have done by taking out decision centers. It is very possible that as a result of her too slow and inadequate moves, she will face a much more armed and angry Ukraine on her borders plus US and NATO troops as well. It’s possible she will get most of her territory…but given Putins commitment to half measures I’m not at all certain. But right now it looks like she will have an armed hostile neo-nazi regime on her much less secure borders even if she gets her land. It didn’t have be that way.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We are only nine months into this war. I pointed out from the very inception that demilitarizing Ukraine would be a high bar. Russia’s thinly manned, big arrow moves early on were designed to demonstrate that Ukraine was mighty vulnerable and intended to drive Ukraine to the negotiating table. That succeeded but then the US and UK got them to repudiate the deal. Russia has continued to slowly gain ground despite its light manning heretofore and its efforts to minimize civilian casualties.

      Your comment amounts to demanding Russia fight US style. Russia doctrinally prefers attritional wars, separate and apart from the fact that chipping through massive. layered bunkering in Donbass is a very difficult exercise, yet Russia has been steadily grinding down Ukraine there.

      By contrast, our style of fast conquest results in impressive-looking gains and long-term failures (see Iraq as the poster child).

      Russia is slowly demilitarizing NATO by draining its weapons caches and supplies of armored vehicles. This steady bleed has the effect of weakening NATO to the point that if and when it decided to man up and intervene (which will likely be done only by a few states and outside NATO, which create legal and operational issues, as Scott Ritter described in detail in a recent interview with Richard Medhurst), it will be way too little and too late.

      Most experts agree that even as of now the US and NATO cannot win a conventional war with Russia. The logistical obstacles, the fact that NATO is set up to deal with regional insurgencies, the overwhelming Russian advantage in artillery, missiles, and aircraft defenses means unless Russia makes an enormous battlefield miscalculation, it will prevail. The fact that it is not on your timetable is your issue, not Russia’s. The Second Chechen War, which will be fresh in Russia memories, took ten years.

      This is why the talk of nukes is so scary. They are the only way the West can sort of win.

      And you are ignoring the devastating impact of taking out Ukraine’s electrical grid, a fact most commentators bizarrely overlook because the Western press has largely stopped reporting on it. As indicated, Russia is continuing to degrade the grid. Ukraine has already conceded it lacks the means to get very far in restoring the ~40% Russia has already taken out. This fall has apparently been warmer than usual so the pressure of cold homes has only started. Russia does not have to do much further to trigger a refugee crisis that will dwarf the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015 in numbers, and will come at a time when Europeans will be cold and hungry and in no mood to take them in. And that’s not even factoring in the military impacts, that a degraded grid makes it harder for Ukraine and any allies to operate.

      1. timbers

        I think the obvious common sense is likely happening – Russia went to extra ordinary effort to evaluate civilians from Kherson for a reason and that’s the tell. Russia will accept half of Kherson (now properly evacuated) IF the West let’s her have all of Donbas. Dima at Military Summary repeats his claim of negotiations and now says Russia has halted attacks on Ukraine electricity grids. So….I suspect but can’t prove a deal may be afoot….US makes Ukraine withdraw from Donbas, Russia gives back half of Kherson, Russia stops destroying Ukraine’s electric grid and swamping Europe with immigration, Biden declares Victory.

      2. timbers

        And Russia evacuation of the Kherson monuments. IMO that is a big tell. Being an amateur admirer of Russian history culture, that’s what I would do if I knew Kherson City would not be part of Russia at the end of this conflict

        1. Polar Socialist

          The problem here is that Russian constitution prevents giving up any Russian land, which Kherson now is. And even if Russia decided not to give a crap about this even after all the noise they made, there’s still the issue that Ukraine and The West are agreement incapable – so Russia should get Donbass first, and only after that return Kherson.

          Making a deal like this would require way more trust than there can be without the West making and implementing a lot of concession first. Like Ukrainian troops withdrawing from Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporozhye. The West lifting a lot of sanctions. NATO declaring that Ukraine won’t be a member in the next 50 years if ever. Ukraine being forced to respect human rights of minorities and ban celebrating Nazis.

          Yeah. Maybe then there could be a deal.

        2. The Rev Kev

          More likely that would have taken them to make sure any Banderas did not destroy them out of spite. They can see what is happening with the statue to Catherine the Great in Odessa. It has already been vandalized.

        3. ambrit

          The monuments could also be removed to higher ground on the premise that, either way, Kherson is going to be flooded. Removed monuments can always be returned to cleaned up places. There is also the possibility that Russia is looking far ahead to proactively deal with Black Sea Level Rise and shift the city of Kherson out of the flood prone regions, permanently.
          Returning to the American analogy of the City of New Orleans; there has been a consistent argument going the rounds that New Orleans should be moved to higher ground sooner rather than later. Much of the city is below the present sea level. When that sea level rises, the problem will just become that much more difficult to deal with. As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed, levees are only as good as the ground upon which they are built. Many of the levees that failed were undermined, not overtopped.
          Both Kherson and New Orleans are teaching tools for the theory that building on a flood plain is a bad idea.

          1. V V Gerasimov

            New Orleans was not originally built in a flood plain. Its nickname “The Crescent City” was taken from the fact that the colonial French settlement was built on high ground (a “natural levee”) along a sharp curve of the Mississippi River. Old maps of the city clearly show the French Quarter on high[er] ground surrounded by vast low-lying mangrove swamps. It was the expansion of the modern city into the mangrove swamps that now cause all the problems with hurricane flooding.

            The section “Topographic New Orleans” on page 1 of the link below explains the “natural levee” phenomenon:


  25. Sausage Factory

    Word is Russia and US are negotiating with Saudi as intermediates. US want some kind of Minsk 3 ‘accords’ Can’t see the Russians buying it without other things on the table (new Nuclear treaties?) It may come to nought but Kherson could be part of the deal/plan.
    It makes sense on its own anyway, Surovikin mentioned this when he took over and has basically been taking troops out ever since, quietly and slowly as well as 115,000 civilians. Pointless to keep them in Kherson if Ukraine blows the Kharkovskaya Dam – a huge loss of troops and civilians would be a waste. Defenses have already been construced and many of the troops will now be redeployed to more active and important parts of the front. I don’t see this as a negative development at all, optics are bad once the western press get hold of it and of course Telegram is just the wailing wall for copium snorting Nazis or pro Russian doomers going through their ‘first war’ rites of passage. Nothing has substantially changed and once the ice comes and the ground is more useable things will move forward for Russia.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks a lot. Do you have any sources you can recommend re attacks on the grid? IMHO this is the real theater until (at least) the ground hardens. The West has basically stopped reporting on it unless Russia launches a very big set of strikes. My impression is Russia is still hitting electrical system targets at least twice a week but I’d like real info rather than guesswork. I can always run a Telegram channel through a translator if there are any reporting regularly on that topic.

    2. John k

      I don’t see how putin could give up Kherson regardless of what us offers even if us was agreement capable, which they’re not; it’s now officially part of Russia.
      I dont see how anything can come of such discussions, maybe both sides are playing to various audiences showing they’re willing to negotiate, but the bastards on the other side aren’t.
      I’ve been hoping that after midterms the us pivots to Taiwan, which I see as less dangerous than Ukraine. It would be nice to think us mil analysts have a better idea of Ukraine chances than what you see in msm, but maybe not… and the Kherson retreat might encourage them to stay the course.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That is a good point. I do not recall reading the rail line had been taken out. In any event, rail lines (as opposed to the bridge/dam structure underneath) are not hard to restore. Russia has units attached to its army that build rail lines, even where there are none.

        Bridges and dams, as Mercouris so often points out, are hard to destroy or even damage. Russia had bad luck with the Antonovsky bridge, which is the bridge just above Kherson city. As I understand it, the main bridge structure is intact, but Ukraine managed to take to take out what I visualize as a long on-ramp, which wasn’t on solid ground but some sort of built up material on top of land.

    3. Ignacio

      If that is true my guess is that Kherson will be a phantom city for a while. Ukrainians might try a gain in optics by sending a few troops to rise a flag in the city council but that would be risky. Who says Russians haven’t left there hidden troops? Alternatively they could send large columns, but this is even riskier Russians able to open the dam ad shell the columns trapped in the mud without mercy.

      This time Ukrainians have to be careful and it seems they realise the risks involved. Problem would be if the “West” says, “You want more money, go and take Kherson now! Because i think, even if there are ongoing negotiations both sides know that having a stronger position in the battlefield is to their advantage.

      1. Polar Socialist

        We’ll soon know. Russian MoD is reporting that the last Russian troops crossed over at 5 AM Moscow time this morning and no troops or equipment remains on the right bank of Dniepr.

  26. Don in Oakville

    I’m interested in hearing from those who could help us understand the consequences of destroying the dam at Nova Khakovka.

    Which side is now getting the power from the dam at Nova Khakovka?

    Would destruction of the dam affect the availability of water to cool the nuclear power plant at Enerhodar?

    Am I correct in thinking there is some sort of deal now in place that connects at least some of the Enerhodar output to the Ukrainian grid? If so, what was the quid pro quo?

    1. Polar Socialist

      Zaporozhye nuclear plant has not been generating any electricity since September. A few of the reactors were already down for maintenance (one originally to replace the Russian fuel with US fuel, I recall), but all have now been disconnected and are only producing enough power to keep the cooling running. This is a safety measure taken due to the constant shelling by an unknown party to the north of the facility.

      Until February this year the ZNPP was connected to Ukrainian and Russian grids, which for all practical purposes were the same. I don’t know if there was any deal, but while it was generating energy to the grid, it was distributed to the Ukrainian side, too. Now it would not make much sense, since the current idea is to deprive Ukraine of energy.

      And lastly, Energodar is the city next to the power plant, not the power plant itself. Enerhodar is the Ukrainian transliteration (it’s still Energodar in cyrillic, even in Ukrainian). The city is almost completely Russian speaking and they transliterate it as Energodar.

    2. elkern

      Destruction of the Kakhovka dam would definitely cause cooling problems at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) at Ener[h/g]odar. The ZNPP is “shut down”, but still requires water for cooling (fission of nuclear fuel never really stops, it just slows down); a precipitous drop in the water level there would be a big headache, prolly requiring *fast* installation of pipes to pump water up from the new level. And then those new pipes & pumps would be vulnerable to artillery on the North (Ukrainian) side of the Dnieper.

      Power from the Kakhovka dam is probably trivial when compared to the potential of the ZNPP.

      The biggest consequence of the destruction of the dam is that it would dry up the canal which provides fresh water from the Dnieper to Crimea. You can trace the canal on Goog Maps; it starts just East of the dam, and runs South to the Crimean peninsula.

      Both of these would be real problems for Russia, which makes recent Ukrainian “warnings” about Russia blowing the dam very scary. Ukraine could blow the dam, and US/Western press would gleefully help them blame it on Russia. IMO, this is why Russia abandoned Kherson City: to give Ukraine some good reason to *not* blow the dam (it would flood portions of the city, notably an industrial area South of the Kosheva River.

  27. WillD

    I think that the Russians have a cunning plan….. Too many things suggest this was planned a while ago, yet in the meantime they have been building reinforcements (pill boxes, etc).

    Why would they do that if they weren’t planning to retake the city and west bank?

  28. Tom Stone

    As far as “Making a deal” what part of “Agreement Incapable” is too hard to understand?
    The US Government and the “Collective West” have proven to be a pack of totally untrustworthy thieves.
    They are NOT CAPABLE of keeping agreements.

  29. Soredemos

    Can we just stop with the farce that this isn’t a war of territorial conquest? Russia grows, while Ukraine gets smaller. The actual process is a bit abnormal, but the end result is the same. Russia’s ‘we have to invade to protect innocent people just independently voting for sovereignty’ claims shouldn’t pass the smell test.

    A very uncharitable-for-Russia version of this war, which I find myself suddenly much more inclined to entertain, would go something like this: Russia, as with so many deluded would-be conquerors in history, convinced itself that Ukraine was a house of cards that would collapse instantly, and adopted a blitz style strategy based on this assumption. Go hard and fast, smash stuff and seize territory, and Kiev will rapidly capitulate and negotiate.

    Only this didn’t happen and Russia lost a dozen generals and probably genuinely took much higher losses than it’s admitted, especially among paratroopers, who basically seem to have completely disappeared from the war. Putin then went on a sacking spree through his intelligence agencies. After that Russia was caught flatfooted, stuck in a war where it is extremely outnumbered, and needs time and legal justification for calling up the large numbers of conscripts it’ll need to win. The “Special Military Operation” model was a complete bust and now has to be moved away from.

    ‘No see, it was a bold deep operation strategy that distracted the Ukrainians while their military infrastructure was dismantled’. Was it, or is this just desperate cope on the part of supporters? I have yet to see an explanation for how the Ukrainian military, supposedly with no trains, little fuel, and reduced to bicycles and civilian vans, keeps being able to move and conduct offensives. I’ don’t know what Russia is missile and air striking on a daily basis, but it should be obvious at this point that it isn’t remotely having the effect they claim it is. The Ukrainians simply aren’t crippled, at all.

    Martyanov of course says everything is fine, but he always says that. He’ll still be saying that if someday columns of Russian troops were marching back into Russia over the Kerch Birdge. ‘Here’s why the temporary Crimean withdrawal is good for Russia, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a tiresome military ignoramus.’

    If Russia can’t even defend, or be bothered to try and defend, a region it supposedly has an overwhelming advantage in, that it has recently heavily reinforced, and that is politically and optically crucial and that most people assumed even if Russia didn’t hold anywhere else it would hold there, that tells me something is deeply wrong with the Russian war effort.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You need to get that knee seen to and get better sources.

      You also seem to suffer from the bias that many readers have, that your distaste for Russia conducting a slow grinding war, which is how historically Russia has preferred to operate, is distorting your reading.

      Russia is holding and slowly advancing on a 1500 mile front line, FFS.

      First, you are completely straw manning my point. Russia follows Clausewitz. Clausewitz stresses to focus on destruction of armies.

      Destroy armies, any other objectives follow. The prime objective is destroying Ukraine’s ability to wage war.

      Aside from clearing Donbass, and likely securing a territorial buffer to prevent shelling of Donbass, the most efficient way for Russia to achieve this aim is to let Ukraine throw itself at well secured Russian positions until they are further depleted.

      Second, Ukraine’s ONLY successful “offensive” was taking Kharviv when Russia was pulling out. Russia lost virtually no troops. A retreat is much harder to execute than an offensive.

      The Sept. Kherson offensive was a disaster for Ukraine. Huge losses and no territorial gain. This “offensive” was a huge win for Russia.

      The current attempts to start an offensive there (pokes too big to be reconnaissance in combat) have consistently resulted in Ukraine forces being thrown back with heavy losses.

      Third, the claim that Russia has lost a dozen generals is false. Ukraine propagnada. Russia always publicly acknowledges the deaths of generals. I haven’t kept track but that “dozen” claim was debunked a LONG time ago.

      Forth, did you not bother reading the post? I did not get it until I looked more but Kherson is proving to be a bigger Izyum: a conquest that looked like a good idea at the time but is now recognized to be an albatross. The big reason for wanting it was to push further west. But it sits in a New Orleans type delta. So is most assuredly is vulnerable to being flooded. Russia cannot take the chance that if it moved to Odessa, the US would not enter and shoot something much more potent than a HIMARS at it….and Ukraine might get lucky with HIMARS strikes or underwater drones. It’s not a good spot to make the staging ground for an attack further west.

      The loss of the Antonovsky bridge also played into this calculation. No real Dneiper bridge here, only pontoon bridges, makes for shitty logistics. Russia need trains to move men and materiel, particularly tanks, efficiently. As explained above, my understanding is that the main span of the bridge is intact but Ukraine badly damaged what amounts to a long onramp that was on some sort of earthworks, not land.

      The Ukrainians are crippled. They can’t defend against the grid destruction, which is why you don’t hear the Western media covering it much. They are having to mobilize 100,000 more, which as Ukraine ADMITS, it to replenish forces, as in replace losses. So Ukraine has ~100,000 dead plus casualties. Ratio of dead to casualties running much higher than normal for the US due to very poor field medic care/inability to get wounded fast enough to hospitals (which I think means not enough field hospitals).

      Where pray tell will that 100,000 come from? The last mobilization round had them calling up old men and pig farmers. There were reports of the (apparently few) remaining younger men being shanghaied outside churches on Sunday. So this round will have to conscript women. And there are also WESTERN report of a shortage of Ukraine trainers due to them being sent to fight.

  30. Soredemos

    Also, an argument would be that this is precautionary because they’re worried about a major Ukrainian offensive. How can there even be any more major Ukrainian offensives, Unless the damage done to the Ukrainian military has been massively overstated. With each major Ukrainian operation we’re assured this is the last, Battle of the Bulge gasp, and that this will exhaust them and they’ll be stuck. And yet they keep happening, and apparently Russia is worried about yet another one.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      For whatever reason, Surovikin signaled as soon as he was in charge that he was not happy about something. The Innertubes chattering classes focused on Kherson and they were right.

      As we pointed out, the past Kherson offensive and the latest round of Ukraine-initiated skirmishes have all focused on the line east of Kherson. The objectives appear to have been 1. to get close enough to Crimea to be in HIMARS strike range and 2. to impede supply to Kherson and maybe even create a cauldron.

      But those attacks have not targeted Kherson.

      So I think the MoD believes:

      1. Kherson will always be at risk of being flooded, it’s just not a great place to hold in isolation (as in not controlling a ton more surrounding terrain.

      2. #1 makes it a bad place to try to mass forces to take Nikolaev and them Odessa. They need another way to do that if they are to do that.

      3. #1+#2 means Russia will wind up expending a lot of effort holding a strategically not valuable bit of real estate. This is a bigger version of the decision to leave Izyum earlier. Seemed like a good idea to take it at the time but upon reflection, not.

      4. Getting out of Kherson also reduces Ukraine incentives to waste HIMARS on the dam. Russia would like to keep the dam if nothing else for the reason it took it in the first place, because Crimea.

    2. fairleft

      I agree, the Ukrainians still seem to heavily outweigh Russia in troop numbers. Either Ukraine is NOW on its very last legs, the Russians are exaggerating Ukraine losses, and/or Ukraine is massively supplemented by mercenaries (that US/EU taxpayers are paying for).

      Excellent take by MoonofAlabama on Kherson that this is a strategic defeat and should be understood as such, and needs to be followed up fairly soon by a major, large-scale victory. But we may need to wait on that, till Russia’s additional 300K troops are in place and ready to fight.

      The next three weeks morale will be low, and as a result, for example, people are already talking about new, lesser objectives, like the Dnieper River as a permanent Russia-Ukraine border. My sense, however, shaken a bit by Kherson, is that when we get to December we’ll see Russia begin to achieve those large-scale victories, take the rest of NovoRossiya, and remove the Zelensky regime pretty quickly.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        If Ukraine has such dominance, why has it not launched a single successful offensive v. actual opposition?

        It has not won any major contests. It was pushed out of Mariupol early on even with Russia being at at least a 3:1 disadvantage in manpower, when the conventional rule of thumb in warfare is that the aggressor needs a 3:1 advantage. Even early on, with a messy command structure of DPR and LPR militias, Chechens, Russian tanks and artillery forces, and Wagners, Russia turned the normal manpower math on its head.

        So Russia has shown manpower is not dispositive when you deploy a shit ton of artillery.

        Ukraine is also, as I pointed out earlier, so desperate for seasoned men that it has sent trainers into combat. Green soldiers (except when added in very small #s to established units) = cannon fodder.

        The “win” in Kharkiv was catching Russia in a covert pullout and forcing them to accelerate getting out the last men. Russia had already been getting civilians out.

        Moon panics. Surovikin ‘splained the rationale for the pullout and it apparently was accepted by the Russia public. So he is not under immediate pressure.

        You and Moon also ignore the continued destruction of the Ukraine grid last night. There was another big round of strikes Wed night. Russia seems to be pounding about 2s a week. Ukraine has already said it can’t repair much of the recent damage any time soon. So these further hits will largely if not entirely take more of the grid down.

        If/when Russia creates a refugee crisis, this will have a very big, destabilizing impact on all of Ukraine’s NATO neighbors.

        Russia is also grinding down Bahmut, a key battle where Russia is winning and therefore not reported in Western press. Ukraine is throwing everything at holding it and is still being pushed back. Once Bahmut falls, it breaks a critical defense line, allowing Russia to finally clear Donbass. That happening will be seen as a very big deal in Russia.

        I will admit I was wrong about Kherson. I thought it would be too politically costly for Russia to pull out. But I did not sufficiently appreciate how difficult the supply situation was. The fact that uber hawks Prigozhin and Kadyrov backed this decision says it was militarily sound. As indicated above, that means it can’t be used for its intended purpose, to take Odessa.

        Shorter: I’d bet all day on Surovikin over Moon. Russia is fighting this war to win, not win popularity contests.

        1. fairleft

          Though ineffective, Ukraine launches multiple offensives every day. This gives the impression, and so does the Kherson withdrawal, that Ukraine (plus lotsa mercenaries) still has a lot more troops than Russia. Russia seems to have one offensive, in Bakhmut, and that is advancing very slowly.

          Russia needs its 350K extra soldiers in place, then it will get it’s Armageddon on. We’ll all re-agree then.

        2. Tom Bradford

          I’d offer that the Russian High Command recognised a while ago that the forces West of the Dnieper at Kherson were a hostage to fortune. In the beginning when the Ukraine was on the back foot it made sense in that the threat it offered to Mykolaiv and Odessa was an ace in the negotiations underway at Istambul but once those had fallen through and the real fight started the rationale changed and defending this area with its restricted and vulnerable supply lines became a dead weight to the Special Operation.

          However a withdrawal from what was regarded as Russian territory could only be authorised by Putin, and I’d offer that the appointment of Surovikin – regarded by the Russians much as the UK and the US regarded Montgomery and Patton in WW2 – to ‘make’ the decision was intended to provide Putin with political cover.

          I think this is a moral defeat for Russia, much as the loss of Singapore was for the British in WW2. It won’t alter the final outcome but by stiffening the backbone of the Ukrainians and their allies by showing the Russians can be ‘beaten’ locally it’s going to make the fight longer, harder and more costly.

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