© Reuters. A view shows destroyed military vehicles after Russia’s retreat from Kherson, in Kherson, Ukraine November 14, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
By Jonathan Landay and Tom Balmforth
KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – After recapturing Kherson from Russian forces and warranted of unstinting U.S. support, Ukraine is well positioned to push its advantage within the war slightly than accept frozen frontlines through winter, some military analysts said.
The strategic and symbolic victory comes as fierce fighting continues further north along greater than 1,000 km of front lines, a reminder that even with the vast Dnipro River now separating the enemies around Kherson, other objectives remain in play.
“Ukraine has the initiative and momentum and is dictating to the Russians where and when the following fight can be,” said Philip Ingram, a former senior British military intelligence officer.
That would include refocusing the offensive closer to Bakhmut within the industry-heavy eastern region of Donbas, where Russia has itself been attempting to break through for months.
“The winter will slow things but not stop them – the Ukrainians can be well prepared to maintain fighting through the winter, the Russians can be less well prepared to survive the winter cold,” he said.
Mile after mile of abandoned trenches along the road to the southern port city of Kherson spoke of the miserable living conditions some Russian forces needed to endure on the suitable bank of Kherson before their retreat.
Reuters witnessed trenches that were narrow, muddy and infrequently exposed to the weather, in contrast to the wooden-floored trenches of the Ukrainians, some equipped with web and flat-screen TVs.
“Whatever (the Ukrainians) do, it is going to be rigorously planned, kept secret and can likely be extremely well executed,” Ingram added.
Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges said there can be no need for Ukraine to rush across the Dnipro while it secures Kherson on the suitable (west) bank and pulls up artillery to bear down on Russian forces defending the approaches to annexed Crimea.
Some residents in Kherson, meanwhile, are concerned concerning the risk of Russian shelling of town once its forces regroup further east.
In accordance with Hodges, Russians concentrated within the south could possibly be exposed to a thrust from Ukraine’s other wing, driving down from the direction of Kharkiv towards the devastated city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
“They (the Russians) can have trenches, nevertheless it is wide open terrain (within the south), easy to focus on Russians there,” he said.
“This Kherson fire support base becomes the anchor to support further manoeuvre by the left flank because it fights its way … towards Mariupol, Berdyansk, and Melitopol.”
TALKS OR NO TALKS?
Ukrainian forces reached the centre of Kherson on Friday after forcing a surprising Russian retreat from the one regional capital that they had captured and one they declared to be a component of Russia.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday that the USA would proceed to support Ukraine militarily “to place Ukraine in one of the best possible position on the battlefield” and wouldn’t seek to inform it what to do.
“This whole notion, I feel, within the Western press of ‘When is Ukraine going to barter?’ misses the underlying fundamentals, which is that Russia continues … to make these outlandish claims about annexed Russian territory,” he said.
He was referring to recent reports quoting officials suggesting Moscow’s recent setbacks on the battlefield could provide Ukraine a chance to think about negotiating with Russia from a position of strength.
America’s top general, Mark Milley, when asked concerning the prospects for diplomacy at an event last week, noted that the early refusal to barter in World War One compounded human suffering and led to hundreds of thousands more casualties.
“So when there’s a chance to barter, when peace could be achieved … seize the moment,” Milley told the Economic Club of Recent York on Wednesday.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in Kherson on Monday that Ukraine was ready for peace, but only on its terms that may restore all occupied territory: “You see our strong army. We’re step-by-step coming through our country, through the temporarily occupied territories.”
On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it was Ukraine’s decision what conditions it will possibly accept to finish the war.
“It’s for Ukraine to choose what sort of terms are acceptable. It’s for us to support them,” he said during a joint news conference with Dutch government officials within the Hague.
“We should always not make the error of underestimating Russia … They still control large parts of Ukraine … What we should always do is strengthen Ukraine’s hand,” Stoltenberg added.