Russian withdrawal from Cherson: looking for the next defeat

After Cherson, Ukraine wants to liberate more areas. Ideas for Russia’s surrender are being played out in Western circles.

Ultranationalists vs. relatives of war victims: Putin is in a tight spot domestically Photo: Sergei Bobylev/Sputnik Kremlin/dpa

taz | Russia was able to occupy Cherson without a fight at the beginning of the war because local authorities voluntarily surrendered the city. At the time, it took advantage of divisions within Ukraine. Now Ukraine has liberated Kherson without a fight – and this time it’s a sign of divisions on the Russian side, leading to the end of the war could lead.

Far-right Russian nationalist Alexander Dugin on Saturday accused Putin of betraying the “Russian world” by failing to defend “Russian cities” like Kherson. Military bloggers associated with the private mercenary organization Wagner, whose fighters on the front around Donetsk lead large-scale, costly offensives, named him retreat from Kherson a “sale”. Dugin felt compelled to make a denial on Sunday: the fact that he was demanding Putin’s resignation was a “false report”.

But the US Institute for the Study of War, which circulated such statements from Russian social media on Sunday, analyses: “Putin is having a harder time satisfying sections of his highly ideologized pro-war constituency because of his military’s inability to achieve his ultimate goals of overthrowing the Ukrainian government and the conquest of all of Ukraine.” On the one hand, Russia’s nationalists have doubts about Putin’s determination, on the other hand, anger is growing in Russian society over the high number of victims at the front.

Even before the liberation of Cherson, the analysis that Russia’s president was caught between ultra-nationalists and relatives of war victims was the background to considerations in the West that now was the time for a negotiated solution. Jake Sullivan, the US government’s national security adviser, visited Kyiv on November 5 and spoke with the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky about an offer to negotiate with Russia. Ukraine must submit this in order to maintain its credibility, the US television network NBC quoted Sullivan’s unnamed interlocutors.

“Possibilities for a diplomatic solution”

Finally, on November 7, Zelensky publicly stated his requirements for talks with Russia: “restoration of territorial integrity; Compliance with UN Statutes; compensation for all war damage; punishment of all war criminals; Guarantees this will never happen again.” On November 9, US Chief of Staff Mark Milley said in Washington the war had “stalled” and now there were “opportunities for a diplomatic solution”.

The standstill was a mistake. On the same day, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the complete withdrawal from Kherson. A day later, there was a new US military aid package for Ukraine. And on Saturday, National Security Advisor Sullivan made it clear: “As long as Russia sticks to the stance that it’s simply occupying as much territory as possible by force, it’s hard to see it as a trustworthy negotiating partner.”

But that also means that if the Russian attitude changes, that could change. An offer of surrender by the West to Russia, which British tabloid media reported on at the weekend, allegedly provides for Putin’s retention of power and impunity if Russia’s troops completely behind the international recognized borders with Ukrainei.e. also giving up the Donbass and Crimea.

In return, Ukraine would not militarily occupy Crimea. This would remain a demilitarized area, the status of which will be negotiated from 2029. In addition, Ukraine would not apply to join NATO until then. According to the reports, the offer was well received in Putin’s environment, and its distribution in the rather dubious media corresponds to a tried and tested diplomatic method of publicly testing bizarre ideas so that they can be forgotten immediately if necessary.

Military favor of the hour

In Ukraine, the mood is going in a different direction: they want to seize the moment militarily. On the north-eastern front around Swatowe, Ukrainian troops inflict gigantic losses on Russian formations. In the south, the Dnipro now forms a clear front line between Ukrainian and Russian-controlled territory, and Ukrainian troops are being transferred from the Kherson region to the other southern Ukrainian front in the Zaporizhia region. In this region, the next major Ukrainian offensive is expected to advance to the Sea of ​​Azov and break through the Russian-held corridor between Donbass and Crimea.

In Mariupol, Russia is allegedly assembling defense units. In Melitopol, further west along the coast, the Russian flag was lowered from the administration building on Sunday. When that happened in Cherson, the Russian occupation there was over after a week.

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