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Evacuation From Kherson Now Compulsory, Military Retreat "Likely" — RU Officials
If it withdraws will there ever be a Russia beyond the Dnieper ever again?
In at least one district of Kherson the voluntary but highly-encourged evacuation of the population has become compulsory. Russian state media reports that the administration of the Kakhovsky District has announced those who stay will be “subjected to measures of forced evacuation”:
One really does get Mind Virus vibes here. Same as with vax. It was voluntary until everyone who was going to get it voluntarily got it, then it became compulsory. Same as with lockdowns. First it was a “special non-working holiday” then it became a police-enforced lockdown.
In other Kherson news the Russia-appointed deputy governor Stremousov last week openly stated that Russian forces will “most likely” withdraw from Kherson city and the rest of the right bank. That is quite the about-face since until this point Stremousov had been claiming the Russian military was going to surely hold onto the city even as he was urging civilians to get out anyway.
So what is going on here?
Is that just Stremousov’s creative way of encouraging the civilians to evacuate? Does the military even brief him on what the situation is? Or is he just piecing things together for himself like the rest of us?
You know me — I’m not one to make predictions. I’m not going to tell you whether the Russians are going to abandon Kherson and withdraw behind the river or not.
What I am going to say is that they have carried out extensive preparations for such a withdrawal.
They gave up their right flank (which was politically significant but militarily useless) to a weak Ukrainian probing attack almost as soon as the annexation referendum of late September was done and dusted. They have built fall-back positions across the river. They have been evacuating the population for weeks, first the voluntary departures and now in some areas even coercively.
They have gone as far as to evacuate statues and even the crypt (!!) of Grigory Potemkin who once governed these areas for Catherine the Great. The very first act of Surovikin when he was named SMO chief was to prepare the public to expect that a withdrawal from Kherson may become necessary and now Stremousov is doing the same echoing Surovikin’s exact language of “the most difficult decisions” that may have to be made.
Very clearly the Russians, at the very least, want to have the option to withdraw.
Ironically one argument against a withdrawal is simply how fraught with risk such a move would be. Organizing a retreat isn’t easy on the best of days, but having to fall back across a giant river over just two damaged bridges is potentially the stuff of nightmares.
Try withdrawing everyone at once and you risk creating a giant traffic jam before the bridges. Try giving up ground in phases instead and the very first mini withdrawal is going to bring Ukrainian gun artillery in range of the bridges and then you’re having to withdraw while your crossings are also being shelled.
In either case, especially the last few thousand still on the right bank after most of the army has already left could be in a world of crap if pressured and require massive amounts of artillery support to get home.
One more word about the evacuations. The Russians are officially saying these are necessary because the Ukrainians are planning to blow up the Nova Kakhovka dam in a saboteur attack. However official Russia has also on a number of occasions accused Ukraine of trying to damage the massive nuclear power plant in Enorgodar, yet there are no evacuations in that region.
In fact, Ukraine has been attacking the Kakovkha dam (the road over its lock) for months now with HIMARS, and has been pleading with the US for ATACMS so it can hit it even harder, so what is one more alleged plot on top of that? The official explanation doesn’t pass the sniff test, but what do you expect from an officialdom that maintains Moskva sank in an accident, and that it has imported zero Iranian drones?
I see the real reason for the evacuations as two-fold. Getting civilians out of right-bank Kherson means fewer civilian supplies have to cross the river leaving more of that capacity for the military. With fewer civilians to feed the Russian military can supply more troops on the far bank, or be assured of spare capacity even if the bridges are degraded further.
Even more importantly, the evacuations make a potential withdrawal politically digestable. Russia’s official motto for the war is “We do not leave our own behind”, but in Kharkov the military did precisely that. It was routed, leaving any civilians who had welcomed the Russians having to scramble to quickly flee themselves or take their chances with the SBU.
Hanging the pro-Russians out to dry naturally and justifiably resulted in a great deal of critique and outrage against the government.
But if the government can say that a military withdrawal from Kherson, unlike in Kharkov, was preceded by many weeks of organized and eventually even compulsory evacuations, it can then claim that Kherson pro-Russians were in fact not left behind, but had been safely evacuated way before the military.
Relinquishing the only regional capital (out of 25) that Russia captured in this war would be humiliating enough. Nobody wants the headache of having left behind its population as well on top.
I will muse about just how “liberated” a person from Kakhovka who is now subject to forced relocation ought to feel at another time. For today I’ll finish on a historical note. If Russia does withdraw behind the Dnieper in Kherson, are we sure that it is ever going to cross it again? Nobody knows the future, but if the retreat happens there is a non-zero chance that going forward there will never be a Russia to the west of lower Dnieper ever again.