Battle for Kherson could be 'Ukraine's Fallujah' or another case of … – iNews

As Ukraine’s southern counter-offensive has gained ground in recent weeks, with the liberation of dozens of settlements on the west bank of the Dnipro river, there have been confident predictions that Kherson – the only regional capital of Ukraine that Russia has control of – would be next to fall.
“The Russian withdrawal from western Kherson Oblast has begun,” announced the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War on 21 October, predicting a phased retreat from the city over the coming weeks.
But Ukrainian officials say those expectations are wide off the mark.
Instead, they anticipate one of the fiercest battles of the conflict.
“The Russians are replenishing, strengthening their grouping there,” said Oleksiy Arestovich, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“It means that nobody is preparing to withdraw. On the contrary, the heaviest of battles is going to take place for Kherson.”
Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, also told Japanese media that the southern counter-offensive had slowed down.
Despite the evacuation of civilians from Kherson and a bleak assessment of local conditions from Russia’s new commander in Ukraine – “We do not rule out difficult decisions,” said General Sergey Surovikin – Russia is reinforcing through new “territorial defence units” and deploying heavy artillery fire against the Ukrainian advance.
Both sides have claimed successes in recent skirmishes. Russian military bloggers reported heavy Ukrainian losses in a battle north of Kherson. Ukrainian reporters claim dozens of Chechen soldiers were killed in a strike on a school building that served as barracks. Without confirming the latter report, Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, subsequently declared a “holy war” on Ukraine
A retreat from Kherson could be politically difficult as the only regional capital under Russian control, and part of the area subject to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation decree. Kherson also serves as the primary source of water for Crimea via the Dnipro river.
Ukrainian forces would likely face stiff resistance against entrenched Russian troops in an urban setting, suggests Dr Kristian Gustafson, professor of intelligence and security studies at Brunel University in London.
“The Ukrainians don’t have a lot of combat power and breaking into a city of this size is not easy,” he says. “On open terrain, [the offensive side] probably needs a three to one advantage to bring home a victory, but if you’re in a city, it’s more like six or ten to one.”
Cities offer greater advantages to a defensive army as a “three-dimensional space,” adds Dr Gustafson, citing the difficulties faced by US troops in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. “Cities have subterranean spaces so you can go underground… you can move through buildings, and rather than using streets and alleyways, you can go through holes in walls.”
Kherson is one of the stronger points in the Russian line since reinforcements over the summer, says retired US colonel, Mark Cancian, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. He believes that reinforcement is ongoing. “I suspect there are a lot of mobilised personnel showing up and they are being used to fill a lot of holes in units,” he says.
Ukrainian messaging could be a continuation of psychological warfare methods that have served them well during the war, says Dr Gustafson, citing the surprise assault around Kharkiv in the east after heavily trailing attacks in the south.
“They could just isolate the city and starve out the defenders,” he says. “The Ukrainians have never gone straight up the middle. They have always figured out where the enemy’s centre of gravity is to knock them off balance.”
For its part, the Ukrainian military has accused Russia of deploying mind games. Ukrainian intelligence official, Kyrylo Budanov, accused Moscow of “trying to create the illusion that everything is lost” in an interview with the Ukrayinska Pravda news website.
The Russian army has advantages in defending Kherson but has often failed to maximise advantages over the course of the war. If Russian forces stand their ground and still lose the city, the consequences could be disastrous.
“The problem is if their lines collapsed and they had to retreat. They would have a hard time getting their troops and equipment out… the risk is that they can’t get their forces over the river and lose 20,000 soldiers. And that would be catastrophic,” says Mr Cancian.
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