Scott Ritter, Sputnik
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from parts of Kherson to form defensive positions on the left bank of the Dnepr River, after commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine Sergei Surovikin warned of Kiev’s plans to launch a massive missile attack on a local dam and indiscriminate strikes on civilians.
Speaking with Sputnik, Scott Ritter, a military analyst and former US Marine Corps intelligence officer, has explained why the decision to relocate Russian troops to the left bank of the Dnepr River shouldn’t be viewed as a “Russian defeat,” but rather as a “pyrrhic Ukrainian victory.”
Sputnik: What are the main reasons for the Russian withdrawal from parts of Kherson? Is this a reasonable move, given circumstances such as the approaching winter?
Scott Ritter: I think the decision was made irregardless of the weather. This is a decision that seemed to focus on preserving the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers over holding on to territory which has no intrinsic value in the short term. I think it was a just decision, one that was made based upon purely military objectives. I think the decision had been made because it was too difficult to reliably supply the Russian troops stationed on the right bank of the river in the vicinity of Kherson with the materiel necessary to ensure their victory over attacking Ukrainian forces and that ultimately these lives could be saved by going back to the left bank, securing their defensive positions and then holding off the Ukrainians, until such time Russia was able to accumulate sufficient offensive military power necessary to retake Kherson, reoccupy the right bank and possibly advance further into Ukraine.
Sputnik: What does Ukraine win and lose by occupying the right bank?
Ritter: First and foremost, this will be a very big political victory for Ukraine. There should be no doubt about this. Ukraine will be capturing or recapturing from their perspective the only major administrative center that had been captured by the Russians in their special military operation. The recapture of Kherson has been a strategic objective of the Zelensky government and the Ukrainian military from the start of their major counter-offensive in September. And if they are able to put troops in Kherson, raise the Ukrainian flag over the administrative buildings of Kherson, this will be seen as an extraordinarily important political victory for them, one which will be able to be used to argue for continued military and financial support from NATO, from the United States and from other nations.
But it’s a political victory only because unless the Ukrainian occupation of Kherson occured in partnership with a larger peace agreement that guaranteed them possession of Kherson in perpetuity, this is, I believe, simply a temporary state of affairs that ultimately, once Russia is able to assemble the totality of the 300,000 men that were mobilized and then carry out combat operations reflective of this new military capacity, that Russia will recapture Kherson, reoccupy the right bank of the Dnepr River and as I said before, have the possibility of advancing further into Ukraine up to and including the capture of the city of Odessa.
Sputnik: In his report to the defense minister, commander of Russian forces in Ukraine Surovikin pointed out that Ukraine’s losses are 7-8 times greater than Russia’s. Can Ukraine really continue to rely on rapid advances?
Ritter: This is ultimately the military math that must be considered by everybody who is assessing the situation. The fact of the matter is, Ukraine cannot continue to operate under conditions where it’s suffering seven to eight times casualties as their Russian opponents and expect to emerge from this conflict victorious. The casualty rate is too high. It’s unsustainable, and ultimately, if it continues, will lead to the strategic defeat of Ukraine.
This is why the Kherson operation must be viewed not as a Russians defeat, but as a pyrrhic Ukrainian victory, that means that Ukraine may have achieved a political victory, but the military cost that they take was too high, unsustainable and ultimately will lead to the defeat of Ukraine.
Sputnik: What does this move say about the Russian strategy? Is Moscow playing the long game in Ukraine? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a strategy?
Ritter: First and foremost, this should demonstrate to the Russian mothers, wives and daughters that the Russian government takes the lives of their loved ones, the men who have been sent into combat very seriously and is not willing to sacrifice them needlessly. That’s an extraordinarily important statement being made by the Russian government, where they are willing to accept short-term embarassment in exchange for preserving the lives of Russia’s most precious asset, which is its human resources, in this case, the men who wear the uniform of the Russian army.
It also shows that Russia is in no hurry to get this conflict over with, that Russia is willing to consolidate its defenses in order to preserve life potentially extending the conflict, but in a manner which allows Russia to gain the advantage at a time and place that’s more beneficial to Russia, so that not only will Russia ultimately achieve the military victory it seeks, but it will do so without needlessly sacrificing thousands of Russian military lives.
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