The conflict in Ukraine, meanwhile, escalated tactically, with Russia “partially withdrawing” west of the Dnieper after a successful Ukrainian offensive.
While Ukraine and the West claimed it as a significant victory, many Russian observers explain the withdrawal as an incitement to negotiations, with some suspecting a Russian trap.
They believe that Russia could draw in Ukrainian forces and then attack when the time is right, depending on the political results of Moscow’s diplomacy with Ukraine and the United States (US).
“The fact that the Russian units are withdrawing in good order means that there is no panic and that the Ukrainian attack was not devastating. Russia backed down, hoping that Zelensky would come to the negotiating table.
The Russian army left behind military and intelligence bases to retake the city of Kherson. Ukraine has little to no independent Intelligence Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) system to observe what the Russians actually did in Kherson,” a military enthusiast said on Telegram.
The partial withdrawal was officially announced by General Sergey Surovikin, General Commander of the Special Military Operation (SMO), on 9 November.
The plain language of the American general
US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s assessment of the Russian withdrawal appears to lend credence to Sasha’s observation.
The New York Times (NYT) reported that Milley pointed to satellite images showing the Russians digging trenches and establishing firm lines of defense across much of the occupied territory in preparation for winter. “Kherson’s withdrawal appeared to be aimed at establishing a more defensible position,” the report quoted Milley’s observations.
The grim realization that Russia won the war but lost only a small battle had long since sunk into the US administration before the Russian withdrawal from Kherson.
But Milley knows not to go against his country’s official hard line on Russia and show that defeating the United States is a proxy war. Milley therefore presents his suggestions as a “strong voice of diplomacy in internal discussions at the White House, (without appearing to) undermine the Ukrainians”.
The fact that Russia had been planning the withdrawal from Kherson for several months was evident when it declared the successful evacuation of 30,000 troops just two days after General Sergei Surovikin announced the withdrawal. This disproved Milley’s prediction that the withdrawal would take several weeks.
The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) acknowledged the orderly withdrawal in its Daily Intelligence Update on November 20. The retreat “went in relatively good order” and its success “is probably due in part to a more effective single operational command under General Surovikin.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hinted that Russia could retake Kherson and that the withdrawal should not be misinterpreted as a retreat. He said they did not see the partial withdrawal as humiliating and that there was “no change” in the Kherson region, which is still part of Russia.
“The special military operation continues,” Peskov added. Kherson, along with Lugansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, had voted in a referendum in September to join the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, Ukraine faces a 40% blackout after Russian strikes on its energy infrastructure, with several photos of major Ukrainian cities in complete darkness after dusk circulating on social media.
There has been talk of some Ukrainian groups about the Zelensky administration possibly undertaking an evacuation from Kyiv, but there has been no official word on the rumours.
The United States divided on Ukraine?
Former US Vice President Mike Pence’s National Security Adviser (NSA) General Keith Kellogg also pointed to Russia’s ‘smart tactics’ decision to blow up the Antonovsky Bridge while retreating to the shore east of the Dnieper.
“They put a major river between their forces and the Ukrainian forces. Now they (the Russians) will wait for the winter (and) build up their forces after training them,” Kellogg said.
The situation is not lost on Ukrainians, who themselves suspect a trap, which Newsweek observed as Kyiv “not celebrating” the Russian withdrawal. He quoted the head of the joint coordination center of the Defense and Security Forces of southern Ukraine, Natalia Humeniuk, as saying that “the Russian occupiers are creating a false impression about their real intentions”.
Mykhailo Podolyak, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top adviser, says a significant number of Russian forces remain in Kherson and that Kyiv does not believe Russia will pull out without a fight.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maylar told reporters that “the Russians cannot be trusted” and that “the art of war includes the art of deceiving the enemy. “.
The reasons for Russia’s withdrawal remain essentially military and strategic. The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) had successfully begun targeting barely stretched Russian supply lines, making sustained combat untenable.
Russia has switched to using Lancet-3 stray munitions (kamikazes or suicide drones) to eliminate the need for long-range guns, rocket artillery and the supply lines that feed them.
But Surovikin also alleged that the mainly pro-Russian population of Kherson was threatened by AFU attacks on the Antonovsky Bridge, the Kakhovskaya Dam and strikes on residential buildings that deprived residents of electricity, food and water.
“Under these circumstances, our top priority is to preserve the lives and health of citizens and our military as much as possible,” Surovikin said in a previous interview on October 18 after being appointed general commander of the special military operation ( SMO). ).
Will Russia attack in winter?
Milley’s reading of the military situation was also preceded by reports of a split in the US administration over its call for “diplomacy”, where national security adviser Jake Sullivan and President Joe Biden reassured Ukraine of continued US support.
After the NYT report on Milley’s internal talks, he went public with his drive for peace at the Economic Club of New York. “When there is an opportunity to negotiate when peace can be achieved, seize it. Seize the moment,” Milley said.
Speaking to the press aboard Biden’s flight to the G20 summit in Indonesia, Sullivan said it was a “shared position within the US government” to help Ukraine achieve the ” best possible position on the battlefield” to strengthen its bargaining power. Biden also made it clear that they “would not engage in any negotiations…on Ukraine without Ukraine.”
But Milley doesn’t believe Ukraine can “completely drive” Russia out of all of Ukraine, except for its “incredible” defense that blocked the Russian offensive. Whether Russia decides to attack in winter depends on whether it sees these developments in the United States as genuine or as a ploy to trick Moscow into letting its guard down and making it believe the United States wants an exit ramp.
The United States and NATO countries also have real industrial, economic and diplomatic constraints to continue financing and arming Ukraine. The main one is their depletion of ammunition and weapons levels due to arms transfers to Ukraine from their stockpile.
For the United States, it is the incredible “uncomfortably low” levels of 155 mm artillery shells. The United States has shipped 806,000 of them to Ukraine, in addition to a few dozen High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), about 8,500,000 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and about 1,400 FIM-192 Stingers from its armories.
U.S. officials and defense manufacturers also explain the sheer difficulty of replenishing inventory given the general decline in U.S. manufacturing and post-Covid industrial supply chain constraints.
US and NATO irritation over Ukraine persisting with the refuted claim that the origin of the missile strike in Poland was Russian also bolstered the long-standing assertion of Moscow regarding Kyiv’s inflexible stance in negotiations since the start of the war.
Russia is currently inducting around 300,000 newly mobilized soldiers and volunteers and has released a plethora of videos showing their training in progress.
Having additional and improved rear echelons allows frontline combat units to conduct offensives without worrying about counterattacks from defenders breaking through their lines.
Russia appears to be preparing for a winter assault, but whether it chooses to do so will depend on the fate of diplomacy.