November 11, 2022


“Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday ordered his troops to withdraw from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson and take up defensive lines on the opposite bank of the River Dnipro. The announcement marked one of Russia's most significant retreats and a potential turning point in the war, now nearing the end of its ninth month.” Reuters

Both sides are cautiously optimistic and urge continued support for Ukraine:

“In the summer, when Ukraine received longer-range rockets such as the US HIMARS, it set about degrading as many river bridges, railroad hubs and supply depots deep behind Russian lines as it could reach. The Russians resorted to pontoon bridges – even submerging railway cars – but getting munitions and other supplies across the Dnipro became increasingly difficult

“There is always a chance that the Moscow meeting on Wednesday was designed to lure Ukrainian forces into a trap, and that the Russians don’t intend to abandon the west bank altogether. Senior Ukrainian officials have certainly been skeptical. But the tactical situation for Russian forces, pushed into a shrinking pocket above the river, has gone from challenging to near-impossible in weeks.”
Tim Lister, CNN

“Had Russian forces remained in Kherson, they would have suffered pointless deaths while wedged between Ukrainian forces attacking the city and the Dnieper River… This retreat means that Russian forces can now concentrate their contiguous defensive lines and facilitate easier logistics trains…

“Standing alongside Gen. Surovikin [when he announced the retreat], Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared, ‘I agree with your conclusions and suggestions. For us, the life and health of Russian servicemen is always a priority.’…

“While this attestation of concern is patently false, deconstructed as it is by the endemic corruption, murderous bullying, and supply disgraces that so afflict the Russian armed forces, it does reflect the Kremlin's growing concern over morale issues. As the body bags keep coming home and the defeats keep stacking up, the war in Ukraine translates into an increasingly concerning domestic reality for Putin's government. In that sense, the retreat from Kherson is both a military and political necessity.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“If the Russians are serious, it is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without some sort of a truce negotiated with the Ukrainians. Russian troops and equipment staging to cross the Dneiper, a crossing that must be done by pontoon bridges, will be vulnerable to artillery fire, as will the bridges they must use. At the same time, the Ukrainians will be advancing on the collapsing Russian defensive line. Quite honestly, this is an operation that would [be a] challenge to execute by a superb army using the element of surprise…

“A broken, rather inept force attempting this feat after declaring its intentions will require divine intervention to make it happen… Even the most noxious pro-Russian social media accounts can’t put lipstick on this pig. And when it gets to the point that the ‘Russia isn’t really trying’ boys can’t lie convincingly to themselves, things are serious. And other satellite imagery indicates more withdrawals may be in the works.”
Streiff, RedState

“For the U.S., the fall of Kherson is a cause both for celebration and, if unfairly, some concern. It seems likely that a part of Kyiv’s strategy is to establish facts on the ground ahead of any peace talks (or, more realistically, pressure from the West for peace talks). But a desire to push further on towards Crimea, however understandable, might lead to Russia escalating the conflict into very dangerous territory indeed…

“For now, however, we can only wait and see and, yes, continue to send money, arms, and matériel to Ukraine, using the leverage that support buys to influence what Kyiv does next, but discreetly. If Russia could never accept losing Crimea, neither could Ukraine ever accept being told publicly that it could never try to win Crimea back… That leaves the most likely prospect for now as something akin to a military stalemate in Ukraine while Russia and the West continue their war of economic attrition.”
The Editors, National Review

“In some ways, the best news about the retreat is that it provides more evidence that Putin is rational — he isn’t another Hitler who wants to die in his bunker and doesn’t care how many people he takes with him. It reinforces the point I made earlier this week, in writing about Putin’s willingness to allow Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports and to back off from his nuclear threats: The Russian strongman is a rational actor who is willing to retreat under pressure if it is to his advantage to do so…

“That should lessen concern that Putin will launch World War III if he doesn’t get his way in Ukraine. Putin certainly miscalculates (as he did in invading Ukraine), and he is definitely reluctant to concede defeat. But he is not unstable, stupid or suicidal. Thus the retreat from Kherson offers encouraging news not only about the state of the war in Ukraine but also about the state of Putin’s mind.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“[On Monday] Zelensky announced that he would hold peace negotiations if Russia agreed to five preconditions: That they would restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity, respect U.N. resolutions on the war, pay to repair all damages caused by the war, punish war criminals, and guarantee that an invasion won’t happen again. Noticeably missing from this list is a demand—which was part of an earlier, otherwise similar announcement—that Putin leave office…

“Zelensky signed a decree in October stating that Ukraine will never negotiate with Putin, though left open the possibility of holding talks with Putin’s successor. Given that Putin’s primary motive is to stay in power, this in effect put diplomacy off the table. The fact that the new demands say nothing about Putin’s fate retrieves the prospect of diplomacy from oblivion. The prospects are still very dim. It is extremely unlikely that Putin would concede to any of Zelensky’s current five demands… [But] If Putin were suddenly to become open to peace talks, his troop withdrawal from Kherson would facilitate the possibility.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

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