Russia Proclaims Its Retreat From Kherson City (Updated)

Russian military leaders say they saw no alternative but to withdraw from Kherson City, even though it is a major blow to Putin’s plans.

byHoward Altman| PUBLISHED Nov 9, 2022 12:54 PM
Russia Proclaims Its Retreat From Kherson City (Updated)
Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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In another disastrous blow to Vladimir Putin’s wish to conquer Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered the withdrawal of his troops from Kherson City to the east bank of the Dnipro River. Shoigu made the decision Wednesday after hearing the recommendation to do so from Gen. Sergey Surovikin, the top commander of Russian forces in Ukraine.

“Shoigu agreed with the proposal to organize defense along the line of the Dnipro River: proceed with the withdrawal of troops,” according to the official Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti account of Surovikin’s videotaped report to Shoigu, broadcast on Russian media.

“The maneuver of the troops will be carried out in the near future, the formations will occupy the prepared defensive lines on the [east] bank of the Dnipro,” Surovikin responded. “The decision to defend on the [east] bank of the Dnipro is not easy, at the same time we will save the lives of our military and the combat capability of the group of troops.”

"The life and health of Russian military personnel are always a priority for us," Shoigu said, according to the Moscow Times.

Russian milboggers, meanwhile, reported on their own departure from the city.

Ukrainian leaders had been predicting a bloody fight for Kherson City, which Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of that nation's Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR), telling The War Zone that the city would be seized by the end of November after a fight. And last week, the GUR and other Ukrainian officials suggested that Russia could be trying to lure Ukraine into a trap, something we covered here.

Wednesday, Mykhailo Podolyak, a close advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, repeated that concern, saying that it remains to be seen if Russia really will retreat from Kherson City.

In recent days, local officials saw a Russian retreat from there as an increasing likelihood.

Serhii Khlan, deputy head of Ukraine's Kherson’s regional council, said on his Facebook page, “I predicted that there would be no other way out for the invaders. And that's what happened. Well, friends, counting the days until we meet in Kherson?”

During a press conference at the Ukrainian Media Center earlier in the day, Khlan said the Russians had blown up several bridges as part of their retreat in Kherson Oblast.

He also said that Russian forces were reinforcing approaches to the roadway over the Kharkovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam to support a withdrawal.

Though the exact timing of the withdrawal is unclear, the move comes as Ukrainian forces are pressing their Kherson Oblast advance.

Kherson City is the only Ukrainian regional capital held by Russia since its all-out invasion. The move, while a blow to Putin, falls in line with Surovikin’s stated strategy of digging in, attempting to hold territory where possible and letting Ukrainian forces exhaust themselves advancing.

However, taking Kherson City to the Dnipro's west bank would be a significant victory for Ukraine, something we reported on last month.

"The Russians would likely find ground attacks against southwestern Ukraine extraordinarily difficult," the Institute for the Study of War reported last month. "The long-term defensibility of Mykolayiv, Odesa, and the entire Ukrainian Black Sea coast thus rests in no small part on the liberation of western Kherson.”

Though Shoigu is looking for an orderly withdrawal across the Dnipro, Ukraine will likely try to make it as difficult as possible.

Still, challenges await. Crossing the Dnipro, especially as Russian forces have prepared fortifications along the east bank and further south, is likely to be a formidable challenge for Ukrainian troops.

The river is about a half-mile wide and sometimes even wider at some points near Kherson City. During its Kherson Oblast counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces frequently bombarded Russian river crossings via precision strikes from the M31 guided rockets fired by the HIMARS system, impeding their efforts to resupply the city. The Antonivsk Bridge — the highway crossing in Kherson — has been out of action for months. The rail bridge upriver has also been knocked out. Even the pontoon bridge Russia built next to the Antonivsk Bridge has come under constant attack, something you can read more about here.

The Dnipro River, which is about a half-mile wide or wider near Kherson City, will be a formidable obstacle for Ukrainian troops to cross. (Google Earth image)

So the question is, will Russia's retreat be contested? And if so, to what degree? And, of course, what will they leave behind for Ukraine to add to its own growing war machine?

If Russia does indeed retreat to the eastern bank of the Dnipro, it could set up a brutal and potentially prolonged cross-channel slugfest where artillery could, once again, be the focus of the battle.

This is a developing story. Stay with The War Zone for updates.

Contact the author: howard@adam-kehoe

Update 1:45 PM EST

Two of Putin’s biggest backers endorsed the move to evacuate Kherson City, lauding Surovikin in the process.

“After weighing all the pros and cons, Surovikin made a difficult but right choice between senseless sacrifices for the sake of high-profile statements and saving the priceless lives of soldiers,” Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic,  wrote on his Telegram channel, according to TASS. “So there is no need to talk about the ‘surrender’ of Kherson. They ‘surrender’ together with the fighters. And Surovikin protects the soldier and occupies a more advantageous strategic position - convenient, safe."

The withdrawal decision is not easy, but it indicates the readiness of the command to take responsibility for the lives of soldiers, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner group mercenary organization, told RIA Novosti, according to its Telegram channel.

Prigozhin told RIA Novosti that the decision is a credit to Surovikin, who "acted like a man who is not afraid of responsibility. It is important not to agonize, not to fight in paranoia, but to draw conclusions and work on mistakes. And after that, understand who is right, who is to blame, and what is the essence of the problem.”

The main goal of the withdrawal is to protect the population while saving personnel as much as possible, Andrei Turchak, Secretary of the United Russia General Council, wrote on his Telegram channel, according to TASS. Turchak added that the Russian army near Kherson risked being cut off from supplies.

"On the other hand, there is a real threat of undermining the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station, which, obviously, could lead to a large number of casualties among the civilian population and military personnel," he said.

Update 3:54 PM EST:

In response to questions from The War Zone about whether the Pentagon thinks Russians will really withdraw from Kherson City, Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, said: “It’s too early to tell whether Russian forces are actually withdrawing from Kherson City, but we continue to monitor. Our focus remains on working closely with our international allies and partners to provide Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to protect its citizens and to enable continued gains on the battlefield as they fight to defend their country.”

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