On the evening of November 9th, a status meeting was held between General Sergey Surovikin, commander of all Russian and pro-Russian forces in the "Special Military Operation" in Ukraine, and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. The two senior officers agreed to the decision to withdraw their forces from the Kherson right bank in Ukraine and fortify their positions on the left bank.
"Kherson cannot be fully supplied and function. Russia did everything possible to ensure the evacuation of the inhabitants of Kherson. Kyiv strikes at the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station and creates a threat of flooding of vast territories," Surovikin said. "It is proposed to take up defensive positions along the left bank of the Dnieper. Keeping a grouping of troops on the right bank is futile."
According to Surovikin, the Ukrainian troops attack schools, hospitals and civilians in Kherson, who have been evacuated to the other Dnieper bank. Due to the circumstances and problems with the supply of Kherson and the adjacent settlements on the right bank of the Dnieper, it is advisable to organize the defense on the left bank of the river. This decision will preserve the combat capacity of the troops, he says.
According to Sergei Shoigu, the defense in Kherson’s direction is stable, but “there are its own peculiarities.” He also agreed with the decision to proceed with the withdrawal of the troops, the task will be completed as soon as possible. The two general officers agree that Kyiv plans to destroy the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant and flood the Dnieper's surrounding areas, which they say represents a great threat to the Russian army and its people in the region.
Surovikin claimed that from August to October, Ukraine lost more than 9,500 soldiers, including over 300 "foreign mercenaries." The losses of the Russian army, he states, are 7 to 8 times less than the losses of the Ukrainian army. Despite this, more than 115,000 will be instructed to leave the area following the order to withdraw. Surovikin says other areas on the front are stable, and claims some areas are targets for small offensives.
Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) listens to Commander Sergei Surovikin (L front). (Russian Defence Ministry / TASS)
It is most likely that the retreat to the left bank of the Dnieper is real, and not a feint as some online have speculated. It is not impossible that Russia may stage a great ruse to engulf the Ukrainian troops, but the situation may not allow for such an opportunity. As such, the key items to watch for is the way the withdrawal is conducted.
Many of these units have not been rotated out in a long time, and as Surovikin states, have been partially or mostly cut off from consistent resupply. Ukraine has launched a long streak of both successful and unsuccessful assaults on Russian positions. Regardless of their outcome from the Ukrainian side, on the Russian side they are both sapping supplies, morale, and manpower.
Russian command has had several days, if not weeks, to plan this withdrawal and left bank fortification operation. If this is done in a coordinated and organized manner, this will show a very different side than what was witnessed during the haphazard route that was seen largely in Kharkiv. It may also indicate a reform in organizational command structure and morale.
Additionally, a sharp eye should be kept on what attacks Russia will launch to cover up this event. The Kremlin will already have a very difficult time spinning this to be palatable by the Russian public. Massive missile, drone, or another significant offensive (less likely) must be done to wash out the press feed and keep the populace supportive of the "special military operation" in Ukraine.
Either way, and regardless of who one supports in the war, this is a significant obstacle for Russian forces. As some pro-Russian sources online has postulated, this may be the largest military setback since 1991. However, what Ukraine can do in the time it takes Moscow to reorganize and withdraw its troops back into a defensive posture.
Cover Photo from AFP