From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Kherson from mapping perspective
Mains level : Russia's retreat in Ukraine
Ukraine’s defence and intelligence unit has reported on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson but predicts it to be a delusion for a retreat.
Where is Kherson?
- Geographically, Kherson is a strategic location for Russia and Ukraine.
- Situated in the northwest of the Dnipro River, the province shares borders with Donetsk, Crimea and the Black Sea.
Why is it important for Russia?
- With Moscow capturing Crimea in 2014, the occupation of Kherson in March 2022 has benefited Russia in transferring its military from Crimea to counter Ukraine.
- It provides access to Odesa and Black Sea ports in the west and serves as the main route to secure southern Ukraine.
Implications of regaining for Ukraine
- For Ukraine, regaining Kherson is significant to protect its population in Kalanchak and Chaplynka districts and also to recapture Crimea.
- Kherson is also an important agricultural region, with irrigation channels.
How did Kherson come under Russia’s control?
- In early March 2022, Kherson was captured by Russia through intense fighting.
- The battle of Kherson proved to be the starting point to capturing and occupying the southern part of Ukraine while the battles for Kharkiv and Kyiv in the north progressed.
- Russia’s hold over Kherson since March 2022 enabled Moscow to capture the key port cities — Mariupol in the Sea Azov, and Odesa, thus expanding control.
- Kherson’s irrigation canals were used as defence positions, creating a strong line preventing Ukraine’s counter-attacks.
- Russia also had positioned its soldiers in Kherson and stockpiled the ammunition.
Why has Moscow announced its withdrawal from Kherson?
- Mobilisation failure: When Russia was advancing rapidly in capturing the southern and northern cities of Ukraine, its military personnel and weapon systems started to run thin.
- Unexperienced troops: The failure of new recruits added an additional challenge to Russia to keep its hold against the Ukraine counter-offensive in Kherson.
- Inability of Russia to govern Kherson: Despite imposing martial law, Russia could not effectively rule Kherson; the three-level security in the occupied areas could not enforce Russia’s control on the ground.
- Ukraine’s expanding counter-offensive: Until August, Ukraine was supplied only with short-range and low-grade weapons by the West. On the other hand, Russia has been facing challenges in augmenting its military hardware on the battleground.
Is the withdrawal final, or a tactical move by Russia?
- Ukraine is advancing: Russia’s new mobilisation has failed to stop the advancing of Ukraine forces.
- Russia is weakening: The challenges to remobilise its defence systems and the shortage of weapons must have played a role in Russia’s withdrawal.
- Inevitable western intervention: With Ukraine strengthening its military capacity through support from the west, upgrading from land-based to air-based to heavy battle tanks, Russia is facing a challenge to hold its occupied territories in Ukraine.
- Withdrawal from Kherson exposes a serious gap in Russia’s strategy to hold southern Ukraine.
- However, it also underlines its strategy — to withdraw under serious attack or resistance by the Ukrainian forces — as it happened in Kyiv and Kharkiv.