Wednesday, 9 November 2022 — The van says…
Sergei Surovikin may be the new kid on the block in Russia’s Ukrainian operation, yet the move made by both himself and Shoigu today was a very mature decision indeed
Much has been said over previous days regarding the setbacks suffered by Russian forces in the Kherson region, and today Sergei Shoigu has ordered Russian forces to withdraw from the city and return to the eastern bank of the Dnieper river. Whilst an army of armchair warriors are throwing their hands in the air, rather than speaking of doom and gloom, the current situation needs to be regarded both objectively as well as being part of a much larger overall plan both in the East and the West. This article will examine what has happened, why it has happened and where it all may lead.
A Change of Chief
In October of this year, General Surovikin became the overall commander of Russian operations in the Ukraine. With that, for the first time since hostilities began, the Kremlin had a commander dedicated to this one operation, yet with that, there were problems.
The first was that although he was the overall commander, he was inheriting a situation of others’ making, and the first few months of the conflict had seen some big mistakes on the part of high-ranking officers in Moscow. Other issues were that with the conflict already being in full-swing and attempting to achieve certain objectives, he had to carry them through even when he believed that this may have not been the wisest plan.
He has now been in the job long enough to begin to steer affairs in a direction that he sees more appropriate, and it is beyond any doubt that it was he who decided to first order an evacuation of the population and then the withdrawal of Russian forces from Kherson and to the other side of the river.
The Situation that Was
Russian forces had spent a lot of time and blood securing the city of Kherson as well as the western bank of the Dnieper river in this region. With Russia’s advances having come westwards, this meant that the river became a barrier to resupply due to bridges having been destroyed by retreating Ukrainians as well as constant bloody assaults from Kiev’s forces. Another danger was the attacks that Ukrainian forces have been making on dams and hydroelectric installations further up the river. Should any of these be breached, this could flood the area causing immeasurable casualties.
Carnage for Kiev
As we have seen on countless occasions over the last eight months, the manner in which the Ukrainian High Command often conducts operations beggars belief. Never since the stupidity of the Somme have men been herded into battle with no consideration whatsoever of their chances of returning. Attack after attack in the Kherson region has been repulsed by the Russians, the toll of deaths and casualties becoming critical for the Ukrainian government. That said, in every attack, Moscow’s men have also been suffering, and in stark contrast to the way in which Kiev throws lives away, Russia is simply not willing to hemorrhage in order that others bleed more. Moreover, a stagnant frontline with constant attacks is never good for the morale of any fighting unit, the soldiers stationed there being better employed elsewhere.
A Giveaway of Guns
Another miscalculation on the part of Moscow was the support that the West would give to the Ukraine. We all expected rational support to be given, yet not only have Western states cleared out their arsenals for Kiev, they are putting certain weapons manufacturing programs into overdrive in order to keep their proxy war going.
With the West throwing unlimited arms at Kiev whilst Zelenskiy throws the lives of Ukrainian soldiers away, Russia would also be throwing men and munitions against an opponent in a very dangerous scenario.
The Russian Plan
The first thing that has to be remembered is that the Special Military Operation in the Ukraine was not planned in a heartbeat the day before it started, but was years in the making; planners obviously wish to make specific gains in a certain manner, but always as part of a larger strategy. Not only that, certain constraints are in place which mean that Blitzkrieg-type conflicts with the horrendous civilian casualties that they cause cannot be waged. If the territories acquired by the Russian Federation are not to be a depopulated wasteland, caution is most certainly the better part of valor and this to a great degree explains why Moscow’s previous advances were as slow as they were. Not only that, in the face of both the risk of Ukrainian attacks as well as of a possible flood, time will show us that the decision to evacuate the population of the city was a very wise move indeed.
With Moscow now moving its positions to the other side of the Dnieper, not only does the river now offer defensive help rather than a logistical handicap, the local geography means the area occupied by Russian forces is less susceptible to the ravages of water should the dams be attacked.
To date, we have looked only at Kherson yet there are also other areas of concern for Russia, some in which battles are already being fought, and others where they may soon start.
U-Turns, Wrong Turns and Turning the Course of the War
As mentioned, since February Russian forces have suffered setbacks, yet Moscow is not just operating on one roadmap. Should the primary plan hit difficulties, contingencies are in place to ensure that losses are reduced in order to increase advantages later. In the case of the regrouping near Kherson, the high command has decided to prevent lower casualties on the Russian side rather than imposing far greater ones on its opponents. Western media will doubtlessly go into raptures over Moscow’s setback, yet it is not they who are paying in blood whilst never reporting the true costs paid by the Ukrainians.
This in turn means that for now at least, many of the resources engaged in this region can be deployed elsewhere. With battles raging near Bakhmut and Avdeevka, there is no lack of places where they can be used, it better to win individual battles one by one rather than hold a stalemate across multiple fronts.
Losing a Battle can Win a War
A huge regrouping such as this is the result of lives and equipment lost, yet had Surovikin continued to hold the lines, over time the toll would have been been even higher. Everything that is saved by a withdrawal today will be available tomorrow, materiel being recovered and casualties being avoided. What is also important is that for now at least, thousands upon thousands of Ukrainian troops are occupying an area from which it is much more difficult to launch the suicidal attacks seen of late.
Learning a Lesson
As bitter a pill as Kherson is, by swallowing it, both the Kremlin and its forces will come away wiser for the experience. Rather than entering into a war to fight for Russians, this has turned into a proxy war, the US having pockets deeper than the Grand Canyon to pay for arms and knowing that Zelenskiy will fight whoever he is told to the last man. With that, we have to look at other aspects of the conflict.
With logistics as bad as they are in the Ukraine, should Kiev wish to move its assets elsewhere, this will prove a challenge in itself. This means that if the Kremlin is quick, the rapid redeployment of men and machines can score much-needed victories elsewhere.
One of the prime objectives of Russia’s assault on the Ukraine’s infrastructure was to force Kiev’s hand into negotiations for a truce. Whilst this has not brought Kiev to its senses, it has been a great success from a Russian perspective, and more of the same would likely yield the same. A faraway war is brought into the houses of the capital every time a Geran visits the capital, and should their use become more widespread, this will bring the country to its knees.
It has not gone unnoticed by many that both Moscow’s and Minsk’s forces have been massing in Belarus over recent months. Quite what is planned or when it will happen is still a closely guarded secret, yet with pressure taken off Moscow to the south, Ukrainian forces concentrating on areas that Russia will vacate and there only being around sixty miles from Kiev to the Belarusian border, perhaps the relief that a withdrawal from Kherson will give Russian forces may signal that the time is ripe for some operation in this area. If strikes on infrastructure cannot bring Kiev to the negotiating table, perhaps bringing the table closer to Kiev may yield results.
At first glance, this is an absolute debacle, yet when viewing this objectively, a lost battle is part of a war, and for all the blood being spat by some, it is not as disastrous a move as so many doomsday merchants would like us to believe.
A local conflict was launched which has in time turned into war which the West cannot afford to ultimately lose. To that end, countries have quite literally bankrupted themselves to support the Ukrainian cause, this being a factor which Moscow did not foresee.
A new commander is in charge now, and if he is to make the current and future situations good, he has to dispense with some of the decisions that went before him.
History has on numerous occasions shown that one apparently ignominious step back can later prove to have been a vital step towards victory. With the conflict having changed so much since February, the world has also been changed by this conflict.
Today, those in the know understand what Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson means; those that do not know will only understand as this step back takes a new meaning in the weeks and months ahead.