Thursday, November 10, 2022

Beware of Russians bearing what seem to be gifts

Now, I'm no military strategist, but it just seems extremely unlikely to me that Russia - in the person of hawkish Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, of all people - would make a public announcement that it is pulling its troops out of the strategic Ukrainian city of Kherson, unless it had some deep ulterior motive.

Are losing armies (particularly Russian ones answerable to the likes of a petulant dictator like Putin) really in the habit of making media announcements on national television of their most embarrassing manoeuvres? Ukrainians are understandably suspicious, however much Western media are playing it up.

Russian troops do indeed seem to be moving out, according to US observers. Maybe they are just re-establishing defensive lines south of the Dnipro River, and Russian artillery can still fire mortars from the other side of the river with relative impunity, and without having to engage fierce Ukrainian ground trooops. They can already be seen establishing fortification and trenches on the other side of the river. Either way, I can't imagine Vladimir Putin ordering his troops to retreat (and a turnaround of this magnitude most certainly came from the top). So, what's going on?

Well, there are anecdotal reports of some Russian troops (specifically Chechens) in plain clothes lingering in Kherson, so there are worries that Russia is setting up a trap of some sort. Ukrainian military planners and the long-suffering residents of Kherson alike are all expecting something of the sort - mines, booby-traps, roadside bombs, who knows? - and hopefully being very cautious as they move into spaces vacated by Russian troops. Suspicious? You bet. Ukrainian troops will certainly be very wary of pushing forward too fast as the Russians appear to retreat.

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