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EXPLANATOR: What would it mean for Russia to withdraw from Kherson?

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Ukrainian forces, which made an offensive in the south, focused on Kherson. a provincial capital that has been under Russian control since the first days of the occupation.

The possible fall of the city will further humiliate Moscow after a series of battlefield defeats and other setbacks, further cornering Russian President Vladimir Putin and laying the groundwork for a potential escalation of the war that has been going on for nearly 8 months.

A look at the military and political significance of Kherson:


With a pre-war population of 280,000, Kherson is the only regional capital captured by Russian forces. The city and surrounding areas fell into Moscow’s hands in the early days of the conflict as Russian troops rapidly pushed their attack north from Crimea, which was illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.

Due to its location on the Dnieper River, close to the mouth of the Black Sea, and its role as a major industrial centre, Ukraine’s loss was a major blow to Ukraine. Ukrainian resistance fighters have since challenged Russian troops for control of the city, with acts of sabotage and assassination of Moscow-appointed officials.

Kherson is also at a point where Ukraine can cut off fresh water from the Dnieper to the Crimea. Kyiv blocked these vital resources after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, and Putin cited the need to restore them as a reason behind the decision to invade.

In the summer, Ukrainian troops launched relentless attacks to retake parts of the province, also called Kherson, one of four regions Russia illegally annexed after last month’s bogus referendums. Ukraine has used US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers to repeatedly hit an important bridge over the Dnieper in Kherson, a large upstream dam that also serves as a crossing point. The strikes forced Russia to rely on barges and ferries, again targeted by Ukraine.

This interrupts supply links with Kherson and the group of Russian forces on the western bank of the Dnieper, making them vulnerable to encirclement. Famine worsened after a truck bomb detonated on 8 October part of the strategic Kerch Bridge, which connects mainland Russia with Crimea, which serves as an important supply hub for Russian forces in the south.


Putin blamed the Kerch Bridge attack on Ukraine’s military intelligence and responded by ordering the bombing of its energy infrastructure. throughout Ukraine.

He also declared martial law in Kherson and three other annexed territories. To strengthen Moscow’s grip.

But as the Ukrainian forces stubbornly suppressed their southwesterly offensive along the Dnieper, the Russian troops found it increasingly difficult to stop their advance.

The newly appointed Russian commander, General Sergei Surovikin In Ukraine, he seemed to be laying the groundwork for a possible withdrawal from Kherson, acknowledging that the situation in the region was “pretty difficult” for Moscow and noting that the war situation there was still developing.

Initially rejecting talk of evacuating the city, Russian officials sharply changed course this week, warning that Kherson could be subject to heavy Ukrainian bombardment and encouraging residents to go only to Russian-held areas. Officials said 15,000 of the 60,000 expected by Thursday had been relocated. Officials of the regional administration, appointed by Moscow, also withdrew, along with other officials.

Moscow has warned that Ukraine could attempt to attack the dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station about 50 kilometers (30 miles) upstream, flooding large areas, including the city of Kherson. Ukraine denies this and in turn accused Russia of planning to blow it up to cause a catastrophic flood before withdrawing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that the dam had already been removed by Russia, and urged world leaders to explain to the Kremlin that blowing up the dam “is exactly the same as the use of weapons of mass destruction.”


Withdrawal from Kherson and other areas on the western bank of the Dnieper would shake Russia’s hopes of attacking west to Mykolaiv and Odessa to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea. Such a move would deal a devastating blow to its economy. It would also allow Moscow to build a land corridor into Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region, which is home to a major Russian military base.

“The loss of Kherson will turn all these southern dreams of the Kremlin to dust,” said Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov. “Kherson is a key for the entire southern region, which will allow Ukraine to target important supply routes for Russian forces. The Russians will try to keep control by every means possible.”

For Ukraine, capturing Kherson would set the stage for recapturing the Russian-held part of the Zaporizhzhia region and other areas in the south, and eventually returning to the Crimea.

“Ukraine needs to wait for Kherson to be in its hands like a ripe apple, because the supply situation for the Russian forces continues to worsen with each passing day,” Zhdanov said.

Ukraine said it hopes to rapidly double the number of US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers that can hit targets 80 kilometers (50 miles) away with deadly precision.

Reclaiming control of Kherson means that Kiev can again cut off the water to Crimea.

“After the occupation of Kherson, the Russians will again have fresh water problems in the Crimea,” Zhdanov said.

He said he could raise the stake if Putin faces losing Kherson.

“The Russians will be ready to wipe Kherson from the face of the Earth instead of giving it to Ukraine,” said Zhdanov.

Breaking the dam and causing major flooding in the mostly flat region may be one way Moscow can do this.

“The Russians want to show that a counterattack on Ukraine will face a harsh response from the Kremlin, which has declared the region to be part of Russia, and it’s scary to even think about what that response might be,” Zhdanov said.

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center independent think tank, noted that the capture of the entire Kherson region and other southern regions would be a reward for Russia, and their loss would have painful consequences for Putin at home and abroad.

“If the Russians leave Kherson, the Kremlin will face another wave of fierce criticism from the military command and officials from ultra-patriotic circles in general,” Fesenko said, adding that the city’s fall would further demoralize the armed forces, possibly fueling opposition to mobilization efforts.

China and India, he said. Those who watch Russia’s action in Ukraine carefully will see Kherson’s fall as a sign of Kremlin weakness.

“Putin will face discreditation not only at home, but also in the eyes of China, and this could be particularly dangerous for the Kremlin,” Fesenko said.


Contributed by Yuras Karmanau from Tallinn, Estonia.


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