As the Ukraine – Russia War continues, Russian forces finally completed a withdrawal from the city of Kherson and moved their forces in the region to the eastern side of the Dnipro River, according to Reuters. Kherson is a strategically important city; maintaining control over it would allow Russia to eventually move on to the southern seaport of Odesa and protect their annexation of Crimea that was conducted in 2014, according to CNBC.
By Russia giving up Kherson, Ukrainian forces can now strike deeper into Russian-held territories, including those in Crimea. Furthermore, Ukrainian forces, once they cross the Dnipro, can then pressure Russian forces in the Donbas from yet another direction.
Of course, this tactic doesn’t mean the war in Ukraine is nearing a conclusion, but rather that Ukrainian successes have put pressure on Russia in ways Moscow did not expect just eight months ago. Because Ukraine is the nation fighting Russian occupation, we can expect that Kyiv will continue to pressure Russian forces until they are forced out, unless something drastically changes the situation on the ground. This strategy places all the pressure on Russia to either withdraw or negotiate a settlement before Moscow loses everything it has already seized from its neighbor.
But Ukraine Has Two Advantages This Winter
With colder weather setting in, it is expected that both sides in this conflict would dig in for the winter, according to NPR. With Ukrainian forces targeting and destroying much of Russia’s ability to resupply its forces in Kherson, Russia was forced to pull back to what Moscow hopes is a better, defensible position closer to Crimea.
The problem for Russia is that Ukraine can still resupply its forces regardless of the weather, while Russian forces continue to face obstacles. If Russian positions are viewed as vulnerable enough, then Ukrainian forces will likely continue to push against Russian occupation forces throughout the winter.
One immediate challenge facing Ukraine is the ability to cross from Kherson to the opposite side of the Dnipro River, where Russia is digging in. Ukraine destroyed or disrupted critical infrastructure that Russia used for moving across the river, and Russia will likely use the same tactics to prevent Ukrainian troops from following.
[Related article: Russia and the Folly of Exchanging Land for Peace in Ukraine]
However, Russian positions on the banks of the Dnipro are well within Ukraine’s artillery range, meaning that holding that position may not last long for Russia. That provides Ukraine with one strategic advantage.
Ukraine has another advantage, which is its forces in the east. The Ukrainian military managed to redeploy significant forces to the east during their counteroffensive this past summer. Although those forces are still engaged, Kyiv could potentially send more servicemembers to the east with the intention of splitting the occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region now that Russia has been forced across the Dnipro.
If Ukraine moved its forces to both the east and the south, Ukrainian forces could split the Russian forces in two. The Ukrainians could also isolate those forces still in the Kherson region because Russian resupply of those forces in that area has not improved.
Melitopol Will Be a Key City to Watch in the Conflict
A key city to watch will be Melitopol. Though this city is well behind Russian lines, it has perhaps the highest rate of partisan warfare that the Russians have dealt with during their occupation.
Additionally, Melitopol sits at the intersection of several major roadways, making the city a prime target for Ukraine to eventually liberate after the Russian withdrawal from Kherson. Ukrainian forces in the Zaporizhzhia region have made small gains against the occupation forces and if Kyiv were to reinforce these units, then another breakthrough becomes a very real possibility. Ukraine has maintained the momentum in the conflict since their counteroffensive began in the east, and it would be a mistake to squander that advantage regardless of the weather.