Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has publicly directed the Russian Army to withdraw from Kherson City and all occupied territory on the right bank of the Dneiper River.
This is the rather bizarre, stage-managed conversation in which General Sergey Surovikin, commander of Army Group South of the Russian Army in Ukraine, presents his assessment to his boss and gets permission to do what he would have to do without permission.
Moment Surovikin and Shoygu admit defeat in the Kherson direction and announce the withdrawal of troops. pic.twitter.com/10UZgVuIcm
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) November 9, 2022
For anyone not familiar with Ukrainian geography, the map below shows what this order means. The pink area north of the river, some 2,000 square miles, will be evacuated. The Russian Army that must be evacuated numbers about 40,000 men plus their equipment.
How We Got Here
This has been coming for a while.
The Russian forces on the right bank of the Dneiper River depended on supplies that traveled across three bridges. But in July, long-range rocket attacks by the Ukrainian Army put all three of those bridges out of commission. This is covered in my post Putin’s War. Week 21. New Weapons Change the Battlefield in Ukraine’s Favor but Are They Stronger Than European Cowardice and Stupidity? The supply situation became more dire when the Ukrainians (or the British, if you are a Russian) disabled the Kerch Strait Bridge, see Putin’s War, Week 33. Mobilization Muddle, a New Era in Air-to-Air Combat Begins, and Another Lull Before a Storm. This meant that all supplies to Crimea and occupied Kherson had to be rerouted through occupied Donbas and run the gauntlet of Ukrainian drone and artillery strikes.
In early October, the Ukrainians unleashed an offensive in Kherson that gained enough territory to put all of Russian-occupied Kherson within range of Ukrainian tube artillery— see Putin’s War, Week 36. Russian Mobilization Ends, Ukrainian Commandos Strike Deep Inside Russia, and What the Heck Is Happening in Kherson? — we began to see signs that a withdrawal was imminent as commercial satellite imagery revealed the Russian Army is constructing fortifications on the left bank. The occupation government also removed flags from all government buildings and relocated operations across the Dneiper.
Overnight, there were more interesting goings-on.
The Russians began the systematic demolition of bridges on the right bank. This will slow down any attempt by the Ukrainian Army to advance.
Russia Retreat Underway: Across occupied-Kherson, 🇷🇺 has blown at least 7 bridges as they attempt to escape across the Dnipro River. 🇷🇺 flags have been pulled off buildings and checkpoints are abandoned.
Whether it’s a rout remains 2 be seen, but the front is collapsing (again) pic.twitter.com/DgAYOAfPop
— CJ (@CasualArtyFan) November 9, 2022
Coincidentally, the deputy head of the quisling government in Kherson and prominent mouthpiece for the Russians, Kirill Stremousov, picked just this moment to die in a car crash.
‼️The administration of the annexed part of the Kherson region confirmed the death of Kirill Stremousov.
Gauleiter's death is also confirmed by the Kremlin state media.
We will not miss him. pic.twitter.com/Emvfc8s8ND
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) November 9, 2022
The Ukrainians seem to have been taken by surprise by the announcement and haven’t commented beyond words to the effect of “we’ll believe it when we see it.” There seems to be a strong feeling that the retreat is a sham. So we can expect the Ukrainian Army to proceed cautiously.
If the Russians are serious, it is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without some sort of a truce negotiated with the Ukrainians. Russian troops and equipment staging to cross the Dneiper, a crossing that must be done by pontoon bridges, will be vulnerable to artillery fire, as will the bridges they must use. At the same time, the Ukrainians will be advancing on the collapsing Russian defensive line. Quite honestly, this is an operation that would challenge to execute by a superb army using the element of surprise. A broken, rather inept force attempting this feat after declaring its intentions will require divine intervention to make it happen.
While crossing the Dneiper to prepared defensive lines gives the Russians better options than they have right now, it doesn’t fix their problem. The ground on the left bank is significantly lower than on the right, placing their fortifications at a disadvantage. The defensive line will require a lot of men to defend because if the Ukrainians force a crossing, the road is open all the way to Sevastopol. The Ukrainians will have the option of attacking across the river (the least preferred solution) or establishing an economy of force operation backed by artillery and moving units to other areas of operation.
Even the most noxious pro-Russian social media accounts can’t put lipstick on this pig. And when it gets to the point that the “Russia isn’t really trying” boys can’t lie convincingly to themselves, things are serious. And other satellite imagery indicates more withdrawals may be in the works (read the whole thread).
Russia has restored the trenches of the Chonhar checkpoint between Crimea and the Kherson Oblast. New trenches were also built.
August 12 and October 8👇
— Benjamin Pittet (@COUPSURE) November 9, 2022