I’m filing this under “too good to check,” as it’s in dispute. But before you dismiss the possibility out of hand that Ukraine has Russia on the run in the south, bear three things in mind:
1. They did just begin a counteroffensive aimed at Kherson
2. Yakov Rezantsev, the latest Russian general to be killed, reportedly met his maker in Kherson in a Ukrainian air attack
3. The fact that the Kremlin hinted hours ago that it was giving up on most of Ukraine might be a reaction to what’s happening in Kherson, essentially an admission that they can’t hold territory outside the Donbas at this point
Pushing the Russians out of the city would be a momentous blow since it’s the only major city under Russian control. It’s located northwest of Crimea in Ukraine’s south, the one part of the country where Russia had gained meaningful ground. The Ukrainians retaking Kherson would be evidence that even Russia’s few victories are fleeting, that they can’t even hold territory on Crimea’s doorstep, where they’re well-supplied.
Russian Forces have been seen Falling Back from the City and the areas near the City en-masse over the Last few Days as Ukrainian Force have very quickly advanced on them, Defense Officials now believe that Russian Forces are moving East to try and Take/Hold the Donetsk Region.
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) March 25, 2022
US military official says Russians losing control of Kherson. “It doesn’t appear to be as solidly under russian control as before.” Popular Ukrainian resistance seems to be working.
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) March 25, 2022
True or false? The Times is hearing some skeptical noises:
Ukrainian forces are now fighting fiercely in Kherson and pushing back Russian gains there, again making the strategically important port city “contested territory,” [a senior Pentagon] official told reporters during a briefing.
That contradicts a statement released on Friday by Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian military’s General Staff, who claimed that the Kherson region was “under full control.”
Ukrainians in Kherson and Ukrainian officials also questioned the Pentagon’s assessment, saying that the city appeared to remain firmly in Russian hands, though Ukrainian forces are fighting across the broader Kherson region.
The Ukrainians have no reason to lie about it. Maybe something got lost in translation at the Pentagon, with Ukraine’s troops forcing Russians to retreat from some parts of the Kherson *region* but not (yet) from the city of Kherson itself.
If they do eventually manage to retake the city, one glance at a map will show you what sort of problems it would prevent for Russia. There are still Russian troops near Mykolaiv, between Odessa and Kherson. Once the Ukrainians are back in control of the latter city, those Russian troops would be cut off. Control of Kherson would also threaten the “land bridge” Putin is trying to construct from the Donbas in the east to Crimea in the south, which everyone had assumed would be his main territorial demand.
And having Kherson in Ukrainian hands would give Zelensky’s troops an opportunity to push east, chasing the Russians back towards the Donbas — or even to push south, towards Crimea. No one had considered the possibility that Ukraine might find itself in a position to threaten the peninsula Russia annexed eight years ago but the only thing standing in the way right now is Kherson. My guess is that the Ukrainians wouldn’t bother with it, not wanting to risk being trapped and cut off by Russians when there’s unfinished business to the east in Mariupol. Threatening Crimea might also be such a blow to Putin’s prestige that he’d consider using WMD to try to back the Ukrainians off.
“Clearly, they overestimated their ability to take Kyiv and overestimated their ability to take any population center,” said the Pentagon source to the Times about Russia’s intelligence failures in Ukraine. That’s true, just as it’s also true that U.S. intelligence did a bang-up job of sniffing out Russia’s invasion plans for Ukraine while the rest of the world was scoffing at the idea. But one point of common ground between our guys and their guys is that both sides underestimated the Ukrainians. Russian troops are paying with their lives for the intel failure on their side but they might be paying a steeper price if not for the intel failure on our side:
The intelligence community and American military appear to have misjudged both countries’ will to fight, according to lawmakers. In Afghanistan, intelligence agencies had predicted the government and its forces could hold on for at least six months after the U.S. withdrawal. In Ukraine, intelligence officials thought the Russian army would take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in two days. Both estimates proved wrong…
“Assessing the will to fight in advance of a conflict like this is difficult. However the lesson of the last year is we have to figure out how to do that,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine independent and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “If we had known in advance how strong the Ukrainians would be and how weak the Russians would be, we might have been able to preposition more equipment and had aid to the Ukrainians flow in faster, based on the assumption they had a real chance.”…
“If there was a blind spot, I think it was less in believing Ukrainians wouldn’t fight and more about believing the Russian military was more capable than they turned out to be,” [Adam] Schiff said.
That’s another failure. You don’t get to the conclusion that Kiev will fall in two days without believing that the Ukrainian resistance would be weak *and* that the Russian offensive would be strong. I can understand underestimating Ukraine, which has had a proper military for less than a decade, but how did we not see Russia’s battlefield problems coming given that the modern U.S. defense complex was more or less built for assessing Russian capabilities?
Whatever our failures, though, Russia’s have been far worse. Julia Davis reports that some doubts have even begun to creep into Russian television as the “special military operation” that was supposed to take a few days enters its second month. “The situation is serious… We have to admit that there was no psychological breakthrough in our operation, where the opposing side would lose their will to resist… The resistance from the Ukrainian side is neither stopping nor weakening,” said one Russian political analyst, questioning whether the Ukrainians wanted to be “liberated” at all. Huh.
I’ll leave you with the leader of the free world, just a year shy of turning 80, suggesting to U.S. troops stationed in Poland today that they might be deploying to Ukraine or something.
Biden tells the 82nd Airborne they're going to Ukraine:
"You’re going to see when you’re there, you’re going to see women, young people standing in the middle, in the front of a damn tank saying 'I’m not leaving.'" pic.twitter.com/M2nu77yUw7
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) March 25, 2022