The Russian withdrawal from western Kherson Oblast has begun. Russian forces likely intend to continue that withdrawal over the next several weeks but may struggle to withdraw in good order if Ukrainian forces choose to attack. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated on October 21 that Russian forces are “quite actively” transferring ammunition, military equipment, and some unspecified units from the Dnipro River’s west bank to the east bank via ferries. The Southern Operational Command added that Russian forces deployed 2,000 mobilized men to hold the frontlines and are continuing to shell Ukrainian positions, likely in an effort to cover their withdrawal. Ukrainian military officials reported that the Russian occupation administration is preparing the evacuation of imported Russian specialists, Ukrainian collaborators, and Kherson’s banking system. Russian occupation administration in Beryslav and humanitarian facilities in Kherson City also reportedly ceased operations.
The Russian withdrawal from western Kherson requires that a Russian detachment left in contact hold the line against Ukrainian attack, covering other Russian forces as they withdraw. Such a detachment must be well-trained, professional, and prepared to die for its compatriots to effectively perform that duty. The deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, assessed on October 20 that Russian military leadership may withdraw “the most combat-capable units” from the left-bank part of the region to the right bank of the Dnipro river and leave mobilized soldiers in contact to cover the withdrawal. Russian milbloggers seized on Hromov’s assessment on October 21 and claimed that Ukrainian officials falsely said that elite units like the VDV and marines are being replaced by untrained mobilized men in Kherson. If Hromov’s assessment is correct, then Russian forces would be setting conditions for a Russian withdrawal to become a rout. Russia’s poorly trained, newly mobilized reservists are very unlikely to stand and resist a Ukrainian counterattack if Ukrainian forces chose to attack them and chase the withdrawing forces. The collapse of a mobilized reservist detachment left in contact would likely lead to a Ukrainian rout of Russian forces on the same scale as Ukraine’s rout of Russian forces in Kharkiv.
Comment: Colonel Lang alerted me to the latest assessment from ISW. What immediately struck me was the treatment of the detachment left in contact (DLIC). Its purpose is to remain behind while the majority of the defending force withdraws. Normally it is conducted to deceive the enemy into believing the defending force is still in position. That element of deception is clearly gone in the case of Kherson. The DLIC should be one of the strongest of the subordinate units with the most capable leadership. As a general planning guideline it will consist of a third of the available troops and half the crew served or heavy weapons. It will be the unit under the greatest pressure, and the success of the withdrawal depends on its effectiveness.
The core of Russia’s force at Kherson consists of several VDV brigades, a Spetsnaz brigade and a couple of tank/mechanized brigades. They’re all now understrength, but still capable of conducting an adequate defense. The DLIC should consist of much of this still combat effective core. But the Russian military leadership appears to be doing just the opposite. They are militarily incompetent… astoundingly incompetent. That goes for their meaty bastard of a new commander, Surovikin, as well.
Given that the Ukrainian General Staff is fully aware of the Russian plans to execute such an inept withdrawal under pressure, there is little doubt that Surovikin will soon deliver a humiliating and costly defeat to his boss, Putin. Stay away from any high rise windows, general.