Five important factors: What is happening in Kherson and what are its prospects for liberation?

10 November 2022, 12:30 PM

The Russian army is strengthening the defense of its Kherson bridgehead and has concentrated almost all Russian airborne troops there.

At the same time, the Russians are evacuating all occupation facilities, have destroyed communications, and are preparing to escape from Kherson and leave across the Dnipro. Yes, these are multi-directional actions that have their own logic. What is happening in Kherson, and what are Ukraine’s prospects for retaking it?

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1. Russian forces and the importance of Kherson. The Kherson bridgehead is defended by the most capable forces of the Russian Army. The group is commanded by the commander of Russia’s Airborne Forces, Colonel General Mykhailo Teplynskyi, and the 22nd Army Corps (under Major General Marzoyev) is fully subordinate to him. The following Russian formations are known to be part of the task force:

The 7th and 76th Airborne Assault Divisions, 98th Airborne Division, 11, 31, 83 Assault Brigades, 45th Airborne Special Forces Brigade, 90th Tank Division, 19th Motorized Rifle Division, 126th Coastal Defense Brigade, 810th Marine Corps Brigade, 37th Motorized Rifle Brigade, 10th Special Forces Brigade, and operational units of the Russian Guard. Almost all of Russia’s Airborne Forces are concentrated here, with three out of four divisions and all four brigades. The Russians are constantly sending replenishments of personnel and military equipment.

Kherson has become a trap hundreds of times bigger than that of Snake Island

2. Strategy. The recent series of Russian defeats in Ukraine has changed the Russian military’s plans for the moment. Instead of capturing all of Ukraine, the Russians are now forced to focus on holding and capturing Donbas, and on defending their land corridor to Crimea through Zaporizhzhia Oblast. But the command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has begun its offensive, and the advantageous bridgehead in Kherson has turned into an anvil. Systematic strikes on bridges over the Dnipro have narrowed Russia’s abilities to supply ammunition and support, and limited the maneuverability of their troops, which has thereby increased the effectiveness of reconnaissance and attack by Ukraine’s high-precision weapons. The Russian Armed Forces cannot suppress Ukrainian artillery and missile systems. The Russians can mount a defense, but in such conditions, they will suffer unacceptable losses.

Russia’s commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, is now being forced by pressure from the Ukrainian Armed Forces to plan to cede Kherson, as he understands that even his elite troops are unable to seize the initiative in the battle for the city. In order to avoid defeat, the Russians plan to deploy a shortened line of defense along the Dnipro. This is because Kherson has become a trap hundreds of times bigger than that of Snake Island, which is soaking up reserves and preventing the Russian military from achieving its aims in Donbas and Zaporizhzhia.

3. Tactics. Russian troops have built a defense that is not dense, but is deeply deployed along the approaches, based on maneuverable artillery and aviation fire, along with the use of tactical reserves with armored vehicles. Their goal is to prevent quick breakthroughs and the entrenchment of small Ukrainian combat groups. Landings in Kherson Oblast are rare, very visible, and with large spaces between them of 1.5−2 km. The first line of defense is the forward landing, which will deal with small unarmored infantry forces that perform reconnaissance and surveillance functions. This line is mined both before and after landing. The main forces are concentrated on the second and third landing lines. Intelligence equipment, drones, tactical reserves, tanks and armored vehicles, and a significant number of anti-tank missile systems (which are optimally suited for these conditions) are situated there. In addition, there are significant elements of Russian artillery and air defense equipment focused on the bridgehead to support their troops, and air support is available. The Russians do not hold the front edge.

Therefore, if Ukrainian forces were to attack with small groups on a narrow front by carrying out raids, without coordination and interaction with artillery, with a plan to rush larger formations into any gaps created, they would face being stopped at the second, or maximum third, landing, as the Russians pull up their tactical reserves and tanks to the place of the breakthrough and shell it with artillery. Attacks by small groups in separate areas and infiltration by infantry in this direction would be ineffective. Offensive actions are effective when the enemy suffers losses of significant numbers of troops, command posts, support artillery, and armored vehicles, that is, the attack must be preceded by a softening of Russian defenses over a large area. Otherwise, the attack will require completely different numbers and qualities of strike groups.

4. Will the Russians flee on their own? The Russian command is doing everything possible to hold Kherson for as long as possible. However, if the powerful pressure from the Ukrainian Armed Forces continues, or even increases due to more effective planning of offensive operations and precise damage to the skeleton and nerve nodes of the Russian Airborne Forces and the 22nd Corps, then the Russian command will begin to retreat. The Russians are openly preparing to repeat their “goodwill gesture” from Snake Island. The situation is very similar in tactical terms to the battle for the island. Russia has far from exhausted its resources for defense, but defense in such conditions would lead to significant losses, all for a city that has lost its value as an offensive bridgehead. Meanwhile, withdrawal across the Dnipro will allow Russia to construct a formidable line of defense on the left bank, where it can withdraw its Airborne Forces into reserve.

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5. The importance of Kherson. Ceding Kherson will mean that Putin will be unable to seize the initiative in the war, even after a full-scale mobilization. This will be a huge strategic defeat for Russia, and will show that Ukraine is capable of defeating any powerful Russian army group. But the battle is not yet over, and the enemy is trying with all his might to delay and, just maybe, to avoid defeat. The Ukrainian Armed Forces will put an end to the battle and the liberation of Kherson.

The text is republished with the permission of the author.

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