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Ukraine Conflict: Russia Withdraws while Ukraine Advances

Picture Credit: BBC via Reuters
Ukraine Conflict: Russia Withdraws while Ukraine Advances

On 11 November 2022, Russian forces completely withdrew from Kherson, and on the same day, Ukrainian forces entered the city. The Russians didn’t only leave the city; they also withdrew back across the Dnieper river to its eastern bank. This day has a historical significance, as on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front during the first World War. The day now ends the eight-month-long occupation of the city for Ukraine. Before the retreat, the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, Oleksii Reznikov, stated that there were around 40,000 Russian troops in and around the Kherson region. The Minister also said that retaking the city would allow his troops some downtime and the chance to regroup before Ukraine undertakes further or new offensives. According to the Russians, the withdrawal was without loss; this is contested by the Ukrainians, who state that Russia lost both personnel and equipment.

The withdrawal was not a simple matter, as the main bridge close to the city of Kherson was rendered unusable by constant Ukrainian strikes, leading to the construction of a makeshift pontoon bridge across the Dnieper. And to cover their retreat, the Russians blew up the road crossing at the Nova Kakhovka Dam. Recently, the head of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence stated that the Russians had rigged the crossing across the dam with explosives. He also stated that along with the crossing, they could also blow up a few of the water locks to flood the area in order to make it difficult to peruse them.

While unlike Kherson, where the Russians retreated, in the Province of Donetsk, part of the larger Donbas region, Russia launched a new offensive. According to reports and the statement by President Zelenskyy,  the fighting is intense, and Ukraine will most likely have to divert troops and resources from other areas to counter the Russian advance, which is fuelled by additional mobilisation and relocation of the withdrawn troops from Kherson.

With the progression of the conflict, both sides have started using new means of targeting each other and new tactics; Russia bought new drones and kamikaze munitions from Iran, while Ukraine is using NATO-supplied HIMARS to undertake precision strikes and, more recently, has been using small remotely piloted boats also called uncrewed surface vessels filled with explosives to attack Russian ships and ports. In one such attack in Sevastopol port city, one ship was damaged, according to Ukraine’s claims. This led to Russia pulling back from the deal which established the grain corridor stating that the attack was linked to it, which Ukraine refutes.

With the progression of the conflict, both sides have started using new means of targeting each other and new tactics; Russia bought new drones and kamikaze munitions from Iran, while Ukraine is using NATO-supplied HIMARS to undertake precision strikes and, more recently, has been using small remotely piloted boats also called uncrewed surface vessels filled with explosives to attack Russian ships and ports.

An official from the Ukrainian Air Force on November 14 stated that the Russians had been in the process of slowly depleting their cruise missile stocks for some time, and now that was the same case with the suicide drones they had gotten from Iran. This, according to the official, was the reason for a recent decrease in such attacks by the Russians. But then, on November 15, the Russians launched a massive coordinated missile strike on Ukraine with the highest number of missiles, around 100 according to Ukraine, being launched since the start of the conflict. This strike, just like with others of a larger scale, targeted multiple cities, including the capital, Kyiv, and it also targeted energy infrastructure to a larger extent than ever before. This is a follow on of what was done in October as well when the power grid was heavily targeted, leading to a significant part of the country being deprived of electricity. Russia has been undertaking such strikes since the start of the conflict in order to demoralise and scare the Ukrainian population, which is especially relevant as winter is approaching and no electricity means no heat.

The Ukrainian military claims to have shot down most of the missiles with western supplied aid defence systems, but still, 15 missiles were able to strike their intended targets energy infrastructure, and two hit residential buildings in Kyiv.  Two people were also killed when a missile landed on a farm in Poland, sparking fears in Poland that it was a deliberate Russian attack. The Polish government refrained from giving any statement in haste, and Russia stated that it had no involvement in the incident. Many observers stated that the wreckage was similar to that of a missile part of the S300 surface-to-air system, which is both operated by Russia and Ukraine.

The Polish President undertook an urgent conversation with his American counterpart, and both discussed the attack and whether NATO’s article 4 should be invoked. Poland immediately started its investigations and was helped by the US and NATO; President Biden in Bali stated that initial investigations have led to the understanding that the missile’s trajectory means that it came from Ukraine. The President and the Prime Minister of Poland both issued similar statements saying that the missile was most likely of Ukrainian origin.

The White House is seeking an additional 37 billion US dollars to both provide assistance to Ukraine and replenish its own stocks, from which it has provided equipment and ammunition to Ukraine and other State Department programmes to support the Ukrainian government. This is at a time when Russia is not only using drones but is also said to be getting short-range and other vital equipment, including body armour, from Iran. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv on November 19, when he announced that the UK would give Ukraine 60 million US dollars of air defence equipment to counter the threat from Iranian drones used by Russia.

And now winter has arrived in Ukraine, bringing with it snow, which will cause tracked and wheeled vehicles on both sides of the conflict to bog down in the mud as the snow intensifies, which will impact the logistics apparatuses and the overall warfighting capability. It will give the defenders an edge in a conflict which currently has no end in sight.

Syed Zulfiqar Ali

Syed Zulfiqar Ali has completed his Masters in Defence & Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, and is currently serving as a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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