Russian Army Retreated from Kherson: A Military Defeat or A Smart Move?

The order of the Russian army to retreat from Kherson is a major turning point in the war in Ukraine and one of Russia’s most significant failures. Kherson, as the only regional center occupied by the Russian Federation, was not only a “strategic and symbolic prize” but also gave Moscow a bridgehead west of the Dnieper, from which it planned to advance further, all the way to Odessa.

The order to withdraw the troops came from the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Serhiy Shoigu, after the commander, Serhiy Surovikin, explained that the shelling of the Ukrainian army made Russian positions vulnerable.

As the journalists note, Vladimir Putin was not present at the meeting, which distanced him from both the shameful defeat and the decision to retreat. Although, according to Kremlin analysts, only he could make such a decision.

The Russian army gradually withdrew from the annexed city, which Ukraine had been actively trying to liberate since the end of the summer. This was the only regional center that Russia managed to capture since the beginning of the invasion.

News of the retreat prompted an angry reaction from some Russia hawks, while others called it a “smart tactical retreat.”

Russian military analyst Boris Rozhin called Russia’s retreat “the most serious military defeat since 1991”: “If there are no future successes with captured major cities and no progress in the winter offensive, a series of military failures will accumulate much more internal discontent than sanctions.”

At the same time, analyst Tetyana Stanova said: “This only confirms, in my opinion, how pragmatic Putin is. He’s not as crazy as we thought.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reacted to the news about the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson. According to him, “this is part of the overall picture that NATO has been observing over the last month, Russia has completely lost its momentum, but it should not be underestimated – Russia can still do a lot of damage.”

This obviously staged meeting between Shoigu and Surovikin was aimed at softening the blow to the domestic audience. Recently, Russians have increasingly heard about problems at the front, heavy losses and untrained soldiers who were used as cannon fodder.

Russia’s decision to retreat allows for an organized withdrawal, and not as in the Kharkiv region in September – a sudden defeat and a panicked retreat, when the Vishwas threw away their weapons and equipment.

The aggressive offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reduced the territory held by the Russians west of the Dnipro, and the bridges used for the supply of troops were gradually under attack. Western intelligence officials said Putin had rejected earlier requests by his military to leave the city.

ISW analysts say that the battle for Kherson is essentially not over, but the occupying forces have entered a new phase, giving priority to withdrawing their troops across the river in full order. They emphasize that the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson direction since August is a coordinated interception campaign. It was aimed at forcing the Russian troops to withdraw beyond the Dnipro without requiring major ground offensives.

Ukrainian forces conducted constant attacks on bridges across the Dnipro River and struck supply nodes and ammunition depots on the banks of the Dnipro, reducing Russian forces’ ability to supply the group on the right bank. Ukrainian forces combined these strikes with careful and successful ground attacks on key points such as Davidiv Brid.

“Some forces may remain to detain Ukrainian troops in Kherson itself – but these battles will only be a means to withdraw as many Russian units as possible in an orderly fashion,” the ISW added.

As President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “no one just goes anywhere if they don’t feel the strength.” The enemy does not give us gifts, does not make “gestures of goodwill”. We are fighting all this.”

Kherson celebrates liberation from the occupation, which Russia called eternal, but ended eight months later on November 11. Citizens of Kherson took to the streets with flags and posters and with tears of joy in their eyes met the Ukrainian soldiers and for last couple of days are celebrating the liberation of their city.

The retreat of Russian troops was a consequence of the successful operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and is unlikely to become a trap for Ukraine in future. Representatives of different countries call it an outstanding victory of Ukraine, and join in the congratulations.

Oksana Salabai
Oksana Salabai
Oksana Salabai is a PhD candidate of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China. An alumnus of Ivan Franko National University of L’viv, Ukraine.