Conflict Alerts # 568, 10 November 2022
In the news
On 9 November, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson city. This decision came after the Russian commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, briefed Shoigu on the situation at Kherson city and said: “Having comprehensively assessed the current situation, it is proposed to take up the defence along the left [eastern] bank of the Dnieper River. I understand that this is a very difficult decision, but at the same time, we will preserve the most important thing – the lives of our servicemen and, in general, the combat effectiveness of the group of troops, which it is futile to keep on the right bank in a limited area.” Shoigu agreed with the assessment and ordered the troops to move out of Kherson city and its surrounding areas, and set up command at the east bank of the Dnipro River.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his hesitation with this move and said: “The enemy doesn’t give us gifts. We are moving very carefully, without emotion, without unnecessary risks.”
Reacting to this, President Biden said at a press conference: “I found it interesting they waited until after the election to make that judgement, which we knew for some time that they were going to be doing. And it is evidence of the fact that they have some real problems — Russian — the Russian military.”
Issues at large
First, Kherson province as a part of the Russian Federation. Though the troops will be withdrawn from the city, they would still be present in the Kherson region which was formally annexed into the Russian Federation on 30 September. Since the war started on 24 February, Russia wanted control of Kherson city and it captured it in March. After this Kherson city has been under Russian military occupation and then part of the Russian federation after 30 September.
Second, imposition of martial law in all annexed regions. On 19 October, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the imposition of martial law in all four annexed regions. In Kherson city, the Russian troops carried out civilian evacuations from the west bank of the Dnipro River to the east bank. The troops evacuated 115,000 people from the city.
Third, the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson city. Ukrainian troops in the past week have gained large swathes of territory west of the Dnipro River and are advancing into the outskirts of Kherson city. They have used long-range missiles to hit Russian targets and caused significant damage to the Russian troops by destroying army personnel and command posts in the city. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) provided to Ukraine by the US has played a key role in Ukrainian advancement into the city.
First, the strategic importance of Kherson city. Given the importance of Kherson city, the withdrawal of troops is surprising. The city is an important Black Sea port connecting Crimea to the rest of the annexed regions in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the invasion, Russia has focused on occupying the city and has been one of the major front lines of the conflict.
Second, the possibility of larger civilian casualties. The troops are being withdrawn to the east bank of the Dnipro River where civilians were relocated to in October. This increases the possibility of civilian casualties by a Ukrainian counter-offensive targeting Russian troops in the new stronghold. This also increases the risk of a Russian attack on the city, which may detonate any mines left behind by the Russian troops. In the war, Russia has always retaliated heavily targeting civilian infrastructure if it suffers a major setback in its “special military operation.” With the withdrawal and the death of the Russian-backed deputy head of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, in an alleged car accident, fears of a large civilian attack are emerging in the city of Kherson.