An Easy Decision

Big Serge game-theories the Russian Kherson withdrawal and reaches the obvious conclusion:

Kherson was becoming an inefficient front for Russia because of the logistical strain of supplying forces across the river with limited bridge and road capacity. Russia demonstrated that it was capable of shouldering this sustainment burden (keeping troops supplied all through Ukraine’s summer offensives), but the question becomes 1) to what purpose, and 2) for how long.

Ideally, the bridgehead becomes the launching point for offensive action against Nikolayev, but launching an offensive would require strengthening the force grouping in Kherson, which correspondingly raises the logistical burden of projecting force across the river. With a very long front to play with, Kherson is clearly one of the most logistically intensive axes. My guess is that Surovikin took charge and almost immediately decided he did not want to increase the sustainment burden by trying to push on Nikolayev.

Therefore, if an offensive is not going to be launched from the Kherson position, the question becomes – why hold the position at all? Politically, it is important to defend a regional capital, but militarily the position becomes meaningless if one is not going to go on the offensive in the south.

Let’s be even more explicit: unless an offensive towards Nikolayev is planned, the Kherson bridgehead is militarily counterproductive… In the broader operational sense, Surovikin seems to be declining battle in the south while preparing in the north and in the Donbas. It is clear that he made this decision shortly after taking command of the operation – he has been hinting at it for weeks, and the speed and cleanliness of the withdrawal suggests that it was well planned , long in advance. Withdrawing across the river increases the combat effectiveness of the army significantly and decreases the logistical burden, freeing resources for other sectors.

This isn’t that hard. And it wasn’t a difficult decision, at least not from a military perspective, because any other decision by General Surovikin would have been not only incorrect, but reprehensibly stupid. War is not a game of Risk. A general does not win a battle, much less a war, by simply moving his forces forward blindly and drawing new lines on the map. It’s entirely normal for generals to try advancing one way, decide that the terrain is not favorable, then withdraw in favor of advancing somewhere else. This is particularly true of so-called maneuver warfare, hence the term.

The optics that so concern the media are part of politics, not war-making. The only time optics matter is with regards to prospective allies deciding to enter or abandon the war, and Russia’s prospective allies could not care less how the Russians manage their lines on the Ukraine battlefield. China’s decision to move against Taiwan and Turkey’s decision to move against Greece will not depend upon whether Russia loses Kherson or takes Odessa. No matter what Russia does, Iran is unlikely to move against Israel unless Israel attacks first, although it would have moved against Azerbaijan if the NATO ally had attacked Armenia.

Moreover, the fact that NATO and the Ukrainians are so obsessed with optics while the Russians are almost entirely focused on genuine military issues is a good reason to surmise that Russia will ultimately win its war with NATO.

The Allies didn’t lose World War II because Operation Market Garden failed and they withdrew from Arnhem. And the Russians aren’t going to lose the NATO-Russian war because they withdrew from Kherson either.