December 3, 2022

KREMLIN CORNERED: Russia’s failure in Kherson leaves Putin with Ukraine albatross

KREMLIN CORNERED: Russia's failure in Kherson leaves Putin with Ukraine albatross

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Just six weeks ago, Vladimir Putin told the residents of the city of Kherson (within the Kherson oblast, or province, in Ukraine) that they would be citizens of Russia forever. Well, forever didn’t last very long. Signs reading “Russia is Here Forever” were gleefully torn down by Ukrainians as the Russians quickly got out of Dodge, blowing up sections of several bridges to shield their rear as they crossed the Dnipro River, evacuating the city and taking refuge in the eastern part of the Kherson region.

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Putin’s forces were already suffering heavy losses and logistical problems when a political blow also befell them: the death of the appointed governor, Kirill Stremousov, who was reportedly killed in a car crash. It’s difficult to say at this point whether his death contributed to the decision in any way or if the retreat was already ordered. Regardless, the announcement came just hours later.

It took many Russians by complete surprise, including some of the invasion’s most ardent defenders.

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Yet there were previous indications the withdrawal might occur. General Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s top commander in Ukraine had recently suggested just such a move to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a televised meeting. Surovikin had acknowledged that it would not be easy, but that he felt it necessary to prevent a complete disaster.

Shoigu, of course, would not have given such an order without the approval of Putin.

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The Ukrainians, meanwhile, were suspicious of the move, worried that the Russkies could be engaging in some large-scale deception intended to trap them in a bad position. They had thought such a withdrawal operation would take at least a week, but instead, it took a mere two days.

Still, Ukrainian leaders are warning citizens to stick to known areas, as they fear that there could be mines planted in and around the city. They’re also aware that some Russian soldiers may have shed their uniforms and blended into the city, intending to commit acts of terror, perform false flag operations, or peddle disinformation.

This is not speculation, they say but based on widespread reports. President Zelensky addressed such bad actors directly, warning them, “[T]o those Russian military who disguised themselves in civilian clothes and are hiding somewhere, I want to say that you cannot hide. We will find you anyway.”

Maybe Putin should go hide in a hole, too.

Follow Ross on Twitter @RossRosenfeld

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