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Why Ukraine’s Victory in Kherson Is So Important

Ukraine Russia
Russian T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Ukraine’s victory in Kherson liberated a strategically critical city. While control of the Dnipro River remains in question because of Russian forces along the east bank, Ukraine can now envision a reality in which the river is once again useful for economic traffic. This is crucial not only for the rest of the war, but also for Ukraine’s future economic prosperity and viability. 

However, Russian forces appear to have withdrawn from the city in mostly good order. While they left some equipment, and apparently some stocks of ammunition, the most valuable kit was apparently transferred across the river in recent weeks. This means Ukraine is unlikely to enjoy the same bonanza it acquired after Russian retreats from Kyiv and Kharkiv. It also means that Russian forces can continue to use their equipment in defense of territory seized in other parts of the country. For good measure, the Russians finished off the bridges that linked Kherson west of the river to its suburbs in the east. Ukraine had already significantly damaged these bridges, and they probably would not have been militarily useful in any case, but Russian troops took no chances.

The liberation of Kherson relieves a long-term Ukrainian concern about a Russian advance along the Black Sea coast towards Odesa. While Russia’s inability to conduct serious maneuver warfare since the first month of the war meant that Odesa was not under serious immediate threat, the removal of Russia from the west bank makes a major advance almost impossible to contemplate. It potentially frees Ukrainian forces still gathered in the south for a defensive contingency. 

Kherson: What’s Next?

Fighting continues, and there is no indication that either Russia or Ukraine have had enough. Ukrainian spirits and morale are high, despite suffering significant casualties in the recapture of Kherson and in the Russian offensive near Bakhmut. For their part, the Russians are concentrating on rebuilding their personnel base, as well as retooling industry for the logistical demands of high-intensity combat. 

The weather is changing in Ukraine, for the worse. However, it is unclear that the onset of winter will substantially slow the fighting. During World War II, operations on either side continued during the winter months, only pausing when spring turned the entire front into mud. The climatic conditions in Ukraine are different now than they were in the 1940s, and the infrastructure is somewhat better. And of course, fighting in Ukraine’s autumn can also be difficult.

Thus it is unlikely that the weather will prevent either Ukraine or Russia from launching offensives during the winter. Ukraine seems far more likely to contemplate such an offensive, given the high morale and good supply situation of Ukrainian forces. Russia, operating on more difficult lines with a badly damaged network of roads, faces a tougher situation. Russia also remains preoccupied by the problem of integrating newly mobilized troops into its existing units.

Nevertheless, some have argued that Russian commanders were able to sell a withdrawal to Putin by arguing that they could put its defenders to better use in attacks elsewhere along the front, particularly in Donetsk.

Ukraine and Russia: What About Negotiations?

The United States has ever so subtly nudged Ukraine in the direction of negotiations, if only to demonstrate to Europe that Kyiv is a reasonable partner. Of course, Russia could end the war tomorrow by withdrawing from the substantial extent of Ukrainian territory that it still controls, but the Russian political system has yet to demonstrate much flexibility on this point. The Russian defeat at Kherson eliminates the most notable salient along the entire battle line, generally rationalizing the front and leaving neither side with any obvious opportunities for advance.

Still, Kyiv is in no mood for peace while Russia holds large chunks of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine has good reason to think that it can liberate more territory, improving its position at the negotiating table. For its part, Moscow still hopes that time is on Russia’s side. A diplomatic breakthrough right now seems unlikely, and as such we are probably looking at many more months of war. 

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    November 14, 2022 at 6:56 pm

    The victorious Ukrainian offensive forces that just took Kherson will shift east to Zaporizhzhia, and drive south to Melitopol and the Azov Sea, cutting the Russian land bridge between Crimea and Donetsk, and putting Harpoon missiles on the Azov Sea.

  2. jack johnson

    November 14, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    What “victory”? Russia pulled back to the other side of the river so troops couldn’t get cut off if the dam was destroyed. It’s called “saving troops lives”…..if Zelenskyy had employed the same tactic, he would have a military left to fight with.

    In Zelenskyy’s “victory speech” he thanked “defenders of Ukraine”, basically admitting it wasn’t his military doing the work in Kherson.

  3. Friend

    November 14, 2022 at 7:50 pm

    That’s just a recap with no new insight whatsoever, held together by some clueless and loose speculation serving only the purpose of barely being a textual crawl from one of your unrelated links to the other.
    I imagine you must first order those links in some random way and then just fill in the gaps with whatever over the bar counter garbage that first comes to mind mixed in with whatever dumb rumor you’ve picked up. I wonder how that works, because it must involve something without a brain.
    I’d speculate, because why not, you do it, that you feed all that shit to a computer first then tell it to compile a worthless block of text.
    And by now it’s known that “peace” and “negotiation” are trigger words, yet you pointlessly keep using them because again, why not. Computer analytics probably says that they are important, because that’s all it can do. Count how many reproductions of your one and the same bs rumor keeps popping up. Can’t wait for more red waves

  4. Johnny Ray

    November 15, 2022 at 11:45 am

    I just read Russian appointed administrators and thousands of civilians have retreated/moved out of Nova Kakhovka which is located on the EAST side of the Dnipro River, east of Kherson, at the highly critical dam that serves Crimea fresh water. That’s huge. It also may mean Russian forces are much, much weaker in that area than previously known.

    One possibly meaning is the Russians are dropping back as a negotiating gambit for a cease fire in place. Ukraine would be stupid to accept those terms.

    However to me, it means Russians are flat losing the war and the military is in complete disarray.

    Even the vicious battles in the Donbas are ridiculous. That was a deeplypoverty stricken area long ago and after all these years of war it’s been shot up all to hell and would cost many billions just to make the area habitable again. Donbas is not worth fighting for, by the Russians. It has no value.

    I see Crimea as the true end point of the war. Will Ukraine take it by force? Are they able? The Russians may want to make it their last stand. I would imagine it will be gruesome for all involved if it comes to that. Maybe this winter.

  5. Jim

    November 15, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    A recap by the author is a good place to start.

    And a fair recap it is… (given some of the other supposed “situation” reports provided, here, on 1945… and all over the mainstream, corporate media).

    What is omitted?

    Well…

    Mr. Jackson’s comment.

    “The victorious Ukrainian offensive forces that just took Kherson will shift east to Zaporizhzhia, and drive south to Melitopol and the Azov Sea, cutting the Russian land bridge between Crimea and Donetsk, and putting Harpoon missiles on the Azov Sea.”

    This is the next logical step in the mind’s eye of most if not all Maximalists.

    It would be a strategic offensive… absolutely.

    But… it also is an entirely different objective from Kherson… Russia knows Mr. Jackson’s plan is strategic while Kherson was not.

    Ukraine’s military is not “Sherman driving to the sea” and Russia is not the Confederate Army in 1864.

    My opinion… a Ukrainian offensive to Melitopol is doomed to strategic defeat.

    Mr. Jackson, did you hear me… your plan is the death knell of the Ukrainian Army… the self-inflicted wound that ends the war… or there about… like the Battle of Bulge… which was the last large German offensive military maneuver of WWII… it’s failure on the Western Front effectively guaranteed Germany’s defeat.

    Be careful what you wish for … it just might come true.

  6. Jay

    November 15, 2022 at 12:52 pm

    No, victory for Ukraine is not that important. There are so many hurting American communities that need funding and support who can’t get any from our governments. Then all of a sudden, money is created out of thin air to support Ukraine with endless amounts. Shameful. Yet, many European countries aren’t paying the same price and still live comfortable.

  7. Jack

    November 15, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    Just wondering …how much cash have the European countries sent to Ukraine?

  8. Gary Jacobs

    November 15, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    Jim says “a Ukrainian offensive to Melitopol is doomed to strategic defeat.”

    Well, considering you’ve been wrong about basically everything you have posted about this conflict so far, I’d say this comment from you predicts a Ukrainian victory.

    The Russians have never been able to solve their HIMARS problem, and an offensive in the Melitopol area is no different. The Ukrainians have been hammering that area with HIMARS, HARMS, and partisan activity for weeks.

    The retreating Russians from Kherson, if they decide to stay in the Melitopol / Tokmak area will be in a kill box. With the Kerch Bridge unable to support heavy trains for months, Their existing road and rail supply lines are almost all in HIMARS range, just like they were in Kherson. The Russians do not have great transport ships, though they did just send one to Mariupol.

    The Russians largely rely on trains for heavy transport of equipment and supplies, and There is one train line from the east coming from Russia to that area of Ukraine. It is well within HIMARS Range going to Tokmak from Donbas. Its one reason why the Russians are losing so many men trying to take Pavlivka, to create a buffer for the train line to restart. They have failed miserably. Estimates are nearing 1000 dead Russians in about 7-10 days in that one little area. It’s an exercise in futility for them. They would have to go well beyond Pavlivka to get the train line out of HIMARS range. Not going to happen.

    What Ukraine needs is colder weather without heavy snow so the mud and streams freeze, and then maneuver warfare can resume in the north near Svatove and Kreminna. That’s where the Russians are most vulnerable right now.

    They will get to Tokmak and Melitopol at some point, but they may take their time to pick the Russians apart in that area as it is also a lot of flat open land. It will be interesting to see how long they take, or if they can advance there at the same time as Svatove+Kreminna. That remains to be seen.

    Have a liberating day.

  9. Jim

    November 15, 2022 at 4:09 pm

    Go ahead, cheerlead for an offensive to Melitopol.

    Certainly, a waste of men & material for both sides.

    I will look upon such an event with sadness & regret for both sides… the loss of good men… in a pointless war.

    But thrust upon me…

    Russia will win.

    Others say Ukraine… time will tell.

    I know I can not dissuade the Maximalists (they will think their thoughts, regardless).

    Their course is committed.

    Even if it leads to ruin.

    Events are beyond their control… no matter how much they protest.

    You know that don’t you?

  10. Gary Jacobs

    November 15, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    Jim,

    I am proudly cheerleading for an offensive on Melitopol, but the Ukrainians are likely to handle it patiently to grind down the Russian forces there the way they did in Kherson, and continue to HIMARS and HARM the Russians to the point where they realize their situation in the entire area is just about as untenable there as it was on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson.

    If you really think its a waste of men, you need to do a better search for the celebration videos from the people of Kherson being liberated from Russian tyranny. They came out into the streets by the thousands…clearly dont think it was a waste.

    The same is true of Melitopol and Tokmak.

    Have a liberating day.

  11. Jim

    November 15, 2022 at 8:00 pm

    “I am proudly cheerleading for an offensive on Melitopol”

    Enough said.

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