©Health & Fitness Journal. Ukrainian soldiers fire a 2S7 Pion SPG at a position as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, at a front line in Kherson region, Ukraine, November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi
By Mark Trevelyan
LONDON (Health & Fitness Journal) – Russia’s leading war hawks were quick to rally behind the decision to leave the Ukrainian city of Kherson on Wednesday, putting a brave face on one of Moscow’s most humiliating retreats in nearly nine months of war.
The withdrawal proposed by General Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed last month to take overall charge of Russia’s war effort, means Moscow is giving up a strategic city north of annexed Crimea, the only Ukrainian provincial capital it has held since its February 24 invasion has conquered.
With Ukraine threatening to push Russian forces against the west bank of the Dnipro River, where they cannot be easily supplied, bald-headed Surovikin suggested Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia build new defense lines on the opposite bank to save the soldiers’ lives.
A fierce shoigu agreed and ordered his troops to retreat.
The decision – described by a Russian military blogger as “a black page in the history of the Russian army” – was nonetheless quickly defended by some of the war’s most high-profile advocates as a wise and necessary measure.
“Having weighed all the pros and cons, General Surovikin made the difficult but right choice between making senseless sacrifices for vocal outbursts and saving priceless soldiers’ lives,” said Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader who has frequently urged a more aggressive approach to the war and has even called for the use of inferior nuclear weapons.
Another war hawk, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group fighting for Russia in Ukraine, is becoming more open, as quoted by the RIA news agency as saying: “The decision made by Surovikin is not easy, but he has like a man acted, he is not afraid of responsibility.”
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state media company RT, went further and compared the retreat to General Mikhail Kutuzov’s decision to cede Moscow to Napoleon in 1812 to preserve his army and save Russia.
In recent weeks, Simonyan has slammed Russia’s chaotic military mobilization, while both Kadyrov and Prigozhin – prior to Surovikin’s appointment – have denounced the warfare and ridiculed some of the generals responsible.
Their chorus of supportive comments on Wednesday indicated a concerted attempt to close ranks behind top military leaders and build a united front at a dangerous moment in the war.
But their comments did little to hide the bitter aftertaste of the retreat.
“I know for sure that this decision was not easy for anyone. Neither for those who met them, nor for those of us who understood it would be like this but still prayed that it wouldn’t happen,” RT’s Simonyan said.
Russia gives both a symbolic award – one from the Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th “forever”.
Depending on how safely and efficiently Russia can withdraw its men and equipment, the withdrawal could put it in a stronger position to maintain other front lines in southern and eastern Ukraine, military analyst Rob Lee said.
But he said that ceding Kherson to Ukraine would bring Russia-annexed Crimea within range of Ukrainian missile systems and US-supplied HIMARS missiles.
The loss of the city is a major blow to Russia’s supreme commander, President Vladimir Putin, who has so far escaped public criticism as hawks like Prigozhin and Kadyrov turned their ire on his generals.
Putin has stayed away from unpopular military decisions. When Shoigu and Surovikin announced their withdrawal on Wednesday, Putin congratulated the staff of a leading scientific institute on its 75th anniversary.
But despite Wednesday’s unity demonstration, Prigozhin’s comments hinted at a possible reckoning imminent.
He said it was necessary “to draw conclusions and work on mistakes. And after that, to understand who is right, who is to blame and what is at the heart of the problem”.