What would retreat from Kherson mean for Russia?

Ukrainian forces urgent an offensive within the south have zeroed in on Kherson, a provincial capital that has been below Russian management because the early days of the invasion.

The doable fall of the town would deal one other humiliation to Moscow after a string of battlefield defeats and different setbacks, additional cornering Russian President Vladimir Putin and setting the stage for a possible escalation of the almost 8-month-old conflict.

A take a look at the army and political significance of Kherson:


Kherson, which had a prewar inhabitants of 280,000, is the one regional capital to be captured by Russian forces. The town and surrounding areas fell into Moscow’s fingers within the opening days of the battle as Russian troops rapidly pushed their assault north from Crimea — the area illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.

Its loss was a significant blow to Ukraine due to its location on the Dnieper River, close to the mouth of the Black Sea, and its function as a significant industrial middle. Ukrainian resistance fighters have challenged Russian troops for management of the town ever since, with acts of sabotage and assassinations of Moscow-appointed officers.

Kherson additionally sits at some extent the place Ukraine can reduce off recent water from the Dnieper to Crimea. Kyiv blocked these very important provides after the Crimean Peninsula’s annexation, and Putin talked about the necessity to restore them as one purpose behind his choice to invade.

Throughout the summer time, Ukrainian troops launched relentless assaults to reclaim elements of the province, additionally referred to as Kherson and one in all 4 areas that Russia illegally annexed after sham referendums final month. Ukraine has used U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers to repeatedly hit a key bridge on the Dnieper in Kherson and a big dam upstream additionally used as a crossing level. The strikes have compelled Russia to depend on pontoons and ferries, additionally focused by Ukraine.

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This disrupts provide hyperlinks to Kherson and the group of Russian forces on the west financial institution of the Dnieper and makes them susceptible to encirclement. The shortages had been exacerbated after an Oct. 8 truck bomb blew up a part of the strategic Kerch Bridge linking Russia’s mainland to Crimea, which has served as a significant provide hub for the Russian forces within the south.


Putin blamed the Kerch Bridge assault on Ukraine’s army intelligence and responded by ordering a bombardment of power infrastructure throughout Ukraine.

He additionally declared martial regulation in Kherson and the three different annexed areas in a bid to cement Moscow’s grip.

However as Ukrainian forces stubbornly pressed its offensive to the southwest alongside the Dnieper, Russian troops have discovered it more and more troublesome to stem their advance.

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the newly appointed Russian commander in Ukraine, appeared to set the stage for a doable withdrawal from Kherson, acknowledging the state of affairs within the area was “fairly troublesome” for Moscow and noting that the fight state of affairs there was nonetheless evolving.

Russian authorities, who initially dismissed speak of evacuating the town, sharply modified course this week, warning that Kherson may come below huge Ukrainian shelling and inspiring residents to depart — however solely to Russian-held areas. Officers stated 15,000 of an anticipated 60,000 had been relocated by Thursday. Officers of the Moscow-appointed regional administration additionally pulled again, together with different civil servants.

Moscow has warned that Ukraine would possibly attempt to assault the dam on the Kakhovka hydroelectric energy plant about 50 kilometers (30 miles) upstream and flood broad areas, together with the town of Kherson. Ukraine denies that and, in flip, accused Russia of planning to blow it as much as trigger catastrophic flooding earlier than its retreat.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged the dam already was mined by Russia and urged world leaders to clarify to the Kremlin that blowing it up would “imply precisely the identical as the usage of weapons of mass destruction.”


A retreat from Kherson and different areas on the Dnieper’s west financial institution would shatter Russian hopes to press an offensive west to Mykolaiv and Odesa to chop off Ukraine’s entry to the Black Sea. Such a transfer would deal a devastating blow to its economic system. It will additionally enable Moscow to construct a land hall to the separatist Transnistria area of Moldova, house to a significant Russian army base.

“The lack of Kherson will flip all these southern desires by the Kremlin into mud,” stated Ukrainian army analyst Oleh Zhdanov. “Kherson is a key to your entire southern area, which might enable Ukraine to focus on key provide routes for the Russian forces. Russians will attempt to retain management of it utilizing all means.”

For Ukraine, capturing Kherson would set the stage for reclaiming the Russia-held a part of the Zaporizhzhia area and different areas within the south, and ultimately pushing again into Crimea.

“Ukraine simply wants to attend till Kherson falls into its fingers like a ripe apple, as a result of the state of affairs with provides for the Russian group of forces retains exacerbating by the day,” Zhdanov stated.

Ukraine hopes to rapidly double the variety of U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers that might strike targets 80 kilometers (50 miles) away with a lethal precision, he stated.

Reclaiming management of Kherson would additionally imply Kyiv may once more reduce off water to Crimea.

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“After the deoccupation of Kherson, the Russians will once more have issues with recent water in Crimea,” Zhdanov added.

He stated Putin may up the ante if confronted with shedding Kherson.

“The Russians can be able to wipe Kherson off the face of the Earth moderately than give it to Ukraine,” Zhdanov stated.

Destroying the dam to trigger huge flooding within the principally flat space can be a technique for Moscow to try this.

“The Russians need to present {that a} Ukrainian counteroffensive will face a tricky response by the Kremlin that declared the area as a part of Russia, and it’s scary to even assume what that response could possibly be,” Zhdanov added.

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Heart impartial assume tank, famous that capturing all of the Kherson area and different southern areas can be a prize for Russia and their loss would have painful penalties for Putin at house and overseas.

“If the Russians depart Kherson, the Kremlin will face one other wave of fierce criticism of the army command and the authorities typically from ultra-patriotic circles,” Fesenko stated, including that the autumn of the town would additional demoralize the armed forces and probably gasoline opposition to the mobilization effort.

He additionally stated China and India. that are rigorously watching Russia’s motion in Ukraine, will see the autumn of Kherson as an indication of Kremlin weak point.

“Putin will face reputational losses not solely contained in the nation, but in addition within the eyes of China, and that could possibly be significantly harmful for the Kremlin,” Fesenko stated.


Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed.


Comply with AP’s protection of the conflict in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine