Ukrainian forces are stepping up their offensive in the south, targeting Kherson, the provincial capital that has been under Russian control since the beginning of the invasion.
The possible collapse of the city is another humiliation for Russia after a series of battlefield defeats and other setbacks, further pushing President Vladimir Putin into a corner and a potential escalation of the war nearly eight months ago. set the stage.
Kherson’s military and political importance is shown below.
Why is the city such an award?
With a pre-war population of 280,000, Kherson is the only provincial capital occupied by Russian forces. The city and surrounding areas fell into Moscow’s hands in the first days of the conflict as Russian forces swiftly launched an offensive north from Crimea, an area illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.
Situated on the Dnieper near the mouth of the Black Sea and serving as a major industrial center, its loss hit Ukraine hard. Since then, fighters of the Ukrainian Resistance have challenged Russian forces for control of the city by sabotaging and assassinating Moscow-appointed officials.
Kherson is also located at the point where Ukraine can cut off fresh water from the Dnieper to Crimea. After annexing Crimea, Kyiv blocked these vital supplies and Putin said they needed to be recovered as one of the reasons he decided to invade.
During the summer, Ukrainian forces launched a relentless offensive to retake part of the province, also called Kherson.
Ukraine has used US-provided HIMARS rocket launchers to repeatedly attack a significant bridge on the Dnieper River in Kherson and a large dam upstream, which is also used as a crossing point. Strikes have forced Russia to rely on pontoons and ferries and have also targeted Ukraine.
The attack disrupted the supply links to Kherson and the Russian army groups on the west bank of the Dnieper, leaving them vulnerable to encirclement. The shortage worsened after a truck bomb on October 8 blew up part of the key Kerch Bridge, which connects mainland Russia with Crimea.
What was Russia’s reaction?
Putin has blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the attack on the Kerch Bridge and has ordered bombings of energy infrastructure across Ukraine.
He also declared martial law in Kherson and three other annexed regions to consolidate his hold on Moscow.
However, as Ukrainian forces stubbornly increased their offensive to the southwest along the Dnieper, the Russians found it increasingly difficult to stop the advance.
The newly appointed Russian commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Slovikin, appears to be preparing a possible withdrawal from Kherson, saying the situation in the region is “extremely difficult” for Moscow. and noted that the fighting conditions there were still evolving.
Russian officials, who had initially dismissed talk of an evacuation of the city, warned this week that Kherson could come under heavy Ukrainian artillery fire and urged residents to leave, but they were forced to leave the Russian-held area. Only changed policy. Officials said 15,000 of the expected 60,000 people had relocated by Thursday. Local government officials appointed by Moscow also withdrew, along with other civil servants.
Moscow has warned that Ukraine may attempt to attack the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam some 50 kilometers (30 miles) upstream, flooding large areas, including the city of Kherson. Ukraine denied that and accused Russia of planning to blow up Ukraine to cause catastrophic flooding before withdrawing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who claims the dam was mined by Russia, makes it clear to the Kremlin that blowing up the dam means “just like using a weapon of mass destruction” to world leaders. I asked.
What does losing Kherson mean for Russia?
A withdrawal from Kherson and other areas west of the Dnieper would dash Russia’s hopes of stepping up its offensive in Mykolaiv and Odessa to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea. Such a move would be devastating to its economy. It would also allow Moscow to potentially build a land corridor to Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region, home to important Russian military bases.
“The loss of Kherson will shatter all the Kremlin’s dreams of the South,” said Ukrainian military analyst Ole Zhdanov.
“Kherson is the key to the entire southern region, which allows Ukraine to target an important supply route for the Russian army. Russia will use any means necessary to maintain its control.”
For Ukraine, occupying Kherson would lay the groundwork for the recapture of the Russian-held Zaporizhia region and other areas in the south, eventually pushing it back into Crimea.
“Ukraine will have to wait until Kherson is available like a ripe apple, as the supply situation for the Russian military group continues to deteriorate by the day,” Zdanov said.
Ukraine hopes to rapidly double the number of US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers that can accurately hit targets 80km (50 miles) away, he said.
Reclaiming control of Kherson also means that Kyiv can cut off water to Crimea again.
“After the deoccupation of Kherson, the Russians will again have problems with fresh water in Crimea,” added Zdanov. He said Putin could raise the stakes if faced with losing Kherson.
“Russia would be ready to wipe Kherson off the face of the earth instead of handing it over to Ukraine,” Zdanov said.
Destroying dams to cause massive flooding in mostly flat areas is one way Moscow is doing it.
“Russia wants to show that any Ukrainian counterattack will face a tough response from the Kremlin, which declared the region part of Russia, and it’s scary to think what that response might be,” Zdanov said. added Mr.