Ukrainian tanks and military vehicles are seen on a road in the Kherson region, Ukraine. [Source: Aljazeera]
After recapturing Kherson city, Ukraine kept Russian forces guessing about their next move, pinning down occupying troops in defensive positions and rendering them unavailable for offensive operations.
Some 30,000 Russian troops that withdrew from the west bank of the Dnieper river earlier this month were entrenching themselves in the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions during the 39th week of the war, deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence Major-General Vadym Skibitskyi, told the Kyiv Post.
In announcing the withdrawal from Kherson city on November 9, the Russian commander-in-chief of forces in Ukraine, Alexander Surovikin, had said it would free up manpower to strengthen other fronts.
Russia has been prioritising the occupation of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the east, and Russian artillery fruitlessly pounded away at Ukrainian defenders there throughout the week.
Ukraine’s general staff said that continued to be Russia’s plan, but soldiers were resisting it.
A possible further source of Russian restraint is that Ukraine has made no secret of its intention to take back Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
To get there, it must prevail over the remaining Russian forces in Kherson or Zaporizhia, and Russia appeared to anticipate an attack there.
Skibitskiy said the timing of a counteroffensive in Crimea would depend mainly on the “weapons and munitions” Ukraine would receive from allies, but that once these were in place, troop movements could outmanoeuvre those of Russian forces.
That means driving a wedge through Zaporizhia to the Sea of Azov, cutting off Russian forces in Kherson and Crimea from those in Donetsk and Luhansk, he said.
Despite the mobilisation of 300,000 conscripts in September and October, Russia appears short of manpower – possibly because it cannot adequately equip those forces.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russia was preparing legislation to conscript men in occupied parts of Ukraine next year, and was continuing to recruit prisoners in Russia.
They also said the Wagner group, which is credited with some Russian successes in the Bakhmut area over the past months, was enlisting mercenaries among factory workers in Belgorod.
Covert mobilisation was also continuing in Crimea, said the staff.
The World Health Organization warned that these attacks against energy infrastructure mean many Ukrainians face life-threatening situations this winter, when temperatures in parts of the country are forecast to plummet to below 20C (-4F).
Two to three million Ukrainians will have to leave their homes in search of warmer shelter, said Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.