Kherson: what comes after Russia's retreat?

After eight months of occupation, Russia has withdrawn its troops from the regional capital Kherson to the opposite bank of the Dnipro River. The Ukrainian military took control of the city on the weekend. Now the Ukrainian forces have the task of defusing mines and getting the electricity and water supplies back up and running. Europe's press examines how Kyiv's recapture of the city will affect the course of the war.

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Novaya Gazeta Europe (RU) /

Reserves freed up and sights now set on Crimea

Novaya Gazeta Evropa stresses the military advantages of the recapture of Kherson for Kyiv:

“The likelihood that Russian troops will risk crossing the Dnieper and advancing to the right bank again is practically zero. As a result, Ukraine will be able to redeploy most of the troops concentrated near the right bank to other sections of the front. This means that in effect 14 full brigades have become the army's operational reserves. ... The target area of the long-range Ukrainian artillery has also expanded considerably in southern Ukraine, and now extends as far as the entry points to Crimea.”

NV (UA) /

Putin has nothing to fear

Even after the defeat, Russia's leadership is sitting firmly in the saddle, columnist Vitaly Portnikov explains on NV:

“When they lost Lyman there were protests and calls for General Alexander Lapin to be demoted. Now that General Surovikin has taken the decision that Russia should abandon Kherson, thus ceding control to Ukraine, people are unanimously in favour of the move and everyone is saying what a hero General Surovikin is. ... So we see that politically, the Kremlin regime is not facing an existential threat. ... What the so-called war correspondents on the main pro-Kremlin channels write about a betrayal is irrelevant in a totalitarian country. ... The only thing that is matters is the efficiency of the security apparatus.”

Echo24 (CZ) /

No sign of war ending

The liberation of Kherson is not yet the liberation of Ukraine, Echo24 warns those who rejoice too soon:

“Ukraine is not giving up on the goal of liberating its entire territory. Despite its successes, this is not a goal that can be achieved overnight. The road to Russia's expulsion is still a long and bloody one. ... Kherson is a significant victory, but it does not change the overall strategy. However, it shows that expelling Russia from Ukraine is not just a crazy dream but a real possibility. To achieve this, Ukraine must not lose the help of the West.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Putin still in touch with reality

That Moscow has opted against pointless deaths in this case is a hopeful sign, says the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“Putin was faced with the choice of sacrificing a military contingent of some 20,000 men in a hopeless defensive struggle, postponing but not avoiding another ignominous defeat, or putting a swift end to the costly fighting around Kherson. The second option is clearly the more sensible from a military perspective. ... Putin's acceptance of this bitter reality is proof that he remains receptive to rational arguments.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Kyiv should take its time

The Ukrainians need to be very cautious now, warns the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

“ If the officers in charge in Kyiv let their soldiers advance too quickly into the supposedly deserted Kherson, the troops could be trapped in a well-prepared ambush. The Russians will have peppered Kherson with mines and booby traps. There could even be thousands of Russian soldiers still in the city, disguised as civilians. Moreover, a city full of troops will be a target for Russian guns and rocket launchers on the other side of the river. President Zelensky and his generals would then be fully responsible for the fate of the civilians in the city. So they're better off taking their time with their decision on Kherson.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Ukraine's tactics are superior

The retreat will raise further doubts about the Russian army's competence, Adevărul explains:

“The Ukrainian army knows that time is working against the Russians, and for that reason it's in no hurry to attack Kherson. ... It's waiting for the frost to set in so that it can advance, but not with untold kilometres of armoured columns as the Russians did, exposing themselves to the danger of being blocked by attacks. The loss of Kherson, the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by the Russians, will raise questions about the meaningfulness of this war and the incompetence of the 'celebrated' Russian army.”

Financial Times (GB) /

The Kremlin can sell any outcome as a success

The Financial Times explains why the withdrawal from Kherson won't weaken Putin on the home front:

“In the eyes of dissatisfied Russians, any form of resistance to the west is a victory, almost regardless of the end result. Even in retreat, they will console themselves with the thought of having prevented Russia's 'further enslavement'. This is why there is no direct link between military setbacks and the weakening of Putin's power. It is as difficult for the president to lose this war as it is to win it. Domestically, even the invasion itself is a sort of victory. Meanwhile, the passive majority can be convinced that any outcome is the best possible one.”

Denik N (CZ) /

Another key moment in the war

The withdrawal is a severe defeat for Russia, Deník N points out:

“With a population of 300,000 before the war, the city of Kherson was the largest regional centre the Russians had occupied since the beginning of this year's aggression in Ukraine - and now they are having to abandon it. ... Above all, Kherson's location is highly symbolic; the Russians are losing the only city on the right, western bank of the Dnipro. And this is the country's most important waterway. ... The liberation of Kherson is therefore another key moment in the war.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Ceasefire no longer ruled out

Russia's withdrawal could indicate a willingness to negotiate for the first time since the beginning of the invasion, La Repubblica hopes:

“It is a turning point. No one believes that the conditions for peace exist: Ukraine will not accept it until the occupied territories are fully liberated. Since yesterday, however, the conditions have been in place for the start of talks on a ceasefire that would put an end to the slaughter. ... A ceasefire that would be protected by the wide waters of the Dnipro. But there are still many uncertainties. ... [On Russia's side] the military leadership took charge of all communications. ... The reaction of the Zelensky government is driven by caution and mistrust.”

The Spectator (GB) /

A clever move by Moscow

The significance of this step should not be overrated, cautions The Spectator:

“This is a military defeat, but not necessarily a decisive one. Much will depend on how far the Russians can manage an orderly retreat rather than a rout. One would expect that they have planned this through, withdrawn stocks of materiel and ammunition that they don't want the Ukrainians to take, perhaps even decided to commit more of their generally risk-averse aircraft to covering the retreat. … If it works, then the Russians will have surrendered the only major city they had taken in this invasion, but now have a chance to consolidate along a more viable defensive line along the Dnipro.”

Konstantin Sonin (RU) /

Better to continue withdrawal

In a Facebook post, economics professor Konstantin Sonin says this is a step in the right direction:

“Decisive for Russia now would be to continue withdrawing its troops from all of Ukraine. As soon as the troops have been withdrawn from the newly occupied territories, I believe Zelensky will agree to negotiations. It will be a simple matter to agree to extensive compensation payments, because the 300 billion dollars [in foreign exchange reserves abroad] that were blocked after the war began are lost to Russia anyway. The consequences of the war will reverberate for decades to come, but at least the reconstruction of the country and the economy could begin sooner. Later it will only be more difficult.”

Club Z (BG) /

Clear signs of disintegration

The defeats are fuelling internal strife in Russia, writes Club Z:

“This time the disintegration process due to the pressure of losses in Ukraine seems to be coming from the Russian Armed Forces. ... Relations between Putin's eight armies (the regular army under Surovikin, the Wagner private army, at least one other private army, Kadyrov's Chechen thugs, the 'armies' of the Donetsk and Luhansk 'people's republics', the Nazgvardia and Rosgvardia national guards) are becoming increasingly complex and hostile. ... There have already been several clashes between the Buryats in the regular army and Kadyrov's Chechens. There are also visible tensions within Surovikin's forces - both between mercenaries and conscripts and along ethnic and religious lines.”

Karar (TR) /

Sending in backup from Afghanistan won't help

No matter how many soldiers Putin sends to fight in the Ukraine war it won't be enough for him to win, observes Karar:

“He mobilised Kadyrov's men, received support from Assad's army, took prisoners out of jails and sent them to the front, but it achieved nothing. Even the partial mobilisation he announced brought no improvement. The solution? Afghan commandos on the run from the Taliban! It's like a joke. ... Will this army of incompetents, into whose training the US put billions of dollars but who couldn't withstand the attacks of the Taliban for even three weeks and fled the front, now be a game-changer?”