Playing down the fall of Kherson, Moscow aims to freeze the war – PRIO Blogs

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The liberation of Kherson by Ukrainian forces on November 11 was both predictable and surprising.

Photo: President of Ukraine / Public Domain

The strategic imperative to withdraw Russian troops from the indefensible position along the western side of the Dnipro River was perfectly clear long before the “difficult decision” presented by the Commander of Russian Forces in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, to the Russian Minister of Defense , Sergei Shoigu. November 9.

Personal responsibility in case of failure

This rare acceptance of personal responsibility for a major failure was staged so awkwardly in front of television cameras that few international observers or Ukrainian pundits were inclined to take the performance at face value (Nezavissimaya gazeta, November 10).

The extremely difficult prospect of completing the retreat amidst active fighting was nevertheless accomplished in the space of a few days without routs or desperate rushes to the few crowded river crossings, which inevitably sparked speculation about the reluctance of the units. Ukrainians to impose a decisive battle. (The Bell, November 10).

It is indeed inconceivable that the usually sharp Ukrainian intelligence services, with their new skills in processing data from multiple drones and satellites, could have missed the movement of some 25,000 enemy soldiers, which had certainly started several days before. Shoigu’s performance (Currenttime .tv, November 11).

In truth, the victory of the expulsion of Russian forces from Kherson, the only Ukrainian regional capital that the Russian army has managed to capture since February 24, is so strategically significant that it was not necessary to further dramatize the liberation with fierce street fighting (The Bell, November 10). Moreover, the Russian battalions are so degraded and demoralized that they cannot be used to reinforce the exhausted offensive push towards Bakhmut in the Donbass. Meanwhile, highly motivated Ukrainian units can be quickly redeployed to maintain momentum to break through multiple weak points in Russia’s defensive lines (Grani.ru, November 10).

Public declaration of intent to withdraw

The rather unusual public declaration of intent to withdraw from fortified positions around Kherson was meant to serve as an invitation from Moscow to Kyiv to suspend high-intensity operations and possibly even proceed with a de facto ceasefire ( Nezavissimaya gazeta, November 8).

In the Kremlin’s calculations, Ukraine can be satisfied with the disappearance of Russia’s strategic bridgehead, from which a new offensive towards Mykolaiv and Odessa could have been launched at the beginning of next year, and now , the Russian forces will not be able to plan a large-scale winter campaign in the Donbass (Svobodnaya pressa, November 11).

Yet what these assumptions fail to take into account is the firm resolve of Ukrainian society to continue inflicting defeats on the aggressor, resulting in a renewed fighting spirit among Ukrainian forces, which is unimaginable for Russian top brass on their side (Kommersant, November 12).

It is becoming abundantly clear to Ukraine that Russia needs a break from rebuilding its battered battalions and turning hastily mobilized recruits into something resembling combat units – and Kyiv has no intention to grant such a delay to the enemy (Republic.ru, November 11).

From a hypothetical ceasefire to substantive peace talks

What is also abundantly clear to the Ukrainian leadership is that a hypothetical ceasefire will not lead to substantive peace talks, because by proceeding with the constitutionally confirmed annexation of four regions, the President Russian Vladimir Putin has effectively severed all bridges to territorial compromises, creating an irreconcilable conflict (RBC, November 12).

The self-destructive backsliding of this pompously celebrated act has compounded the strategic setback of the fall of Kherson, which amounts to a serious violation of Russia’s redefined territorial integrity (The Moscow Times, November 11).

The relatively smooth execution of the retreat only reinforces this contrast, for in Moscow’s doctrinal terms, territorial integrity is sacrosanct and must be upheld by all available means and at all costs.

Minimize a political disaster

The Kremlin tried to downplay this self-made political disaster, and the official media, especially the state-controlled TV channels, only mention Kherson elliptically (Meduza, November 11). Most of the noisy “patriotic” bloggers, who in September 2022 loudly decried the defeats of Izyum and Liman, are now properly kept up to date and sing the praises of General Surovikin, who took responsibility for writing and lead the Russian retreat from the brink. a rout (Novayagazeta.eu, November 11).

Yet the shock of undeniable defeat is painful for war apologists, and it was exposed by Aleksandr Dugin, a proponent of Russian nationalist geopolitics, whom Putin respectfully referred to as “our philosopher” (Meduza, November 3 ). .

Lamenting Kherson as an unacceptable loss, Dugin asserted that in an autocratic state like Russia the burden of responsibility rests at the top, and failure to accept it renders the autocrat in question useless and expendable (Tsargrad. TV, November 11). Few among the Russian elites are ready to subscribe to Dugin’s ferocious proposal for all-out war, but some might perhaps be shaken from their passive acceptance of the unfolding “special military operation” by such fiery rhetoric. (Riddle, November 9).

Putin is acutely aware of the growing understanding among various circles of his subordinates that poorly executed war will only get worse, and the Russian president can only count on the deep mistrust of the various courtier clans and their fear of his reprisals ( Republic.ru, November 10).

He can also assume that the anxieties of the elites are absolutely detached from the growing discontent of Russian society, which was shocked by the announcement of the mobilization and increasingly traumatized by its disorderly execution (Forbes.ru, November 11). Putin may only have access to carefully falsified data on public opinion and regularly suffer the usual displays of slavish loyalty from his aides and henchmen.

Even so, his instincts warned him that attending the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, in person might be a step too far (Russiancouncil.ru, November 11).

The Kremlin found no openings to produce an initiative that could divert the domestic political agenda from the Kherson debacle or offset it with an asymmetric escalation of the ever-evolving war.

The Russian military has several “hybrid” means of warfare, but every attempt to use them – from sabotaging Nord Stream pipelines to withdrawing and then reinstating the “grain deal” – has caused more damage than harm. gains, without having any real impact. during kinetic warfare. The best hope for Moscow right now is to show that it is ready to cease hostilities and to encourage Western supporters of a pseudo-peace agreement, in which Ukraine would be forced to accept facts accomplished.

This new guise of the corrupt policy of appeasement is about to be torn apart by Kyiv’s firm resolve to celebrate the liberation of Kherson as irrefutable proof of impending defeat from Russia’s brutal aggression.

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