What Russia’s Kherson retreat means for Putin’s war in Ukraine

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At least in the short term, analysts said, the retreat makes sense.

“The Russian military has been increasingly isolated on the right bank of the Dnieper,” said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at Le Beck, a security consultancy, “making it difficult to hold positions despite the arrival of newly mobilized soldiers.”

“The Dnieper does offer a natural barrier that can be more easily defended. The Russians have also been working on setting up defenses on the other side of the Dnieper for several weeks now.”

But Ukraine continues to enjoy robust Western support — likely boosted by better-than-expected results for Democrats in this week’s midterms — and Putin’s options appear limited.

“On a military front the Russians are in a situation that Putin never expected to find himself and I don’t think he has a good plan or way forward,” said Menon. 

“The only real strategy Russia has is to increase its attacks against the Ukrainian homefront, which has been Moscow’s main coping mechanism so far,” said Horowitz. “Russia is effectively digging its heels, hoping to inflict a cost upon Ukrainian civilians, after failing to defeat the Ukrainian army.”

How is this being seen in Russia?

The move is unlikely to be seen favorably in Russia, where criticism of the war has been growing and where Kherson had only recently been portrayed as joining the nation forever. 

“This is going to be a difficult decision to sell at home, particularly after Putin effectively doubled down by annexing all of the occupied territories Moscow managed to capture in Ukraine,” said Horowitz.

He added that it was notable that the retreat was announced by Surovkin and not Putin, likely a deliberate tactic to protect the president from criticism.

Many Russian commentators and propagandists called the retreat a necessary and realistic step to maintain the goals of the “special military operation” and avoid an even more humiliating defeat.

On his talk show Solovyov summed up the opinion of many pro-Russian voices, including some influential military bloggers, by describing it as a “courageous” and “difficult” decision.

Not everyone approved, however. Sergey Markov, a commentator and former adviser to Putin, said: “The surrender of Kherson is the largest geopolitical defeat of Russia since the collapse of the USSR. The political consequences of this huge defeat will be really big,”

Writing on this Telegram channel Wednesday, he blamed the retreat on a “catastrophic delay in making the necessary decisions.”



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