GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – A sudden attack of sensibleness! And; not just in Russia either!


Confirmation of Russia’s withdrawal of its forces on the west side of the Dnipro River and from Kherson city signals an important moment in the Ukrainian War.  In recent weeks, Russia appeared to be in a confused and difficult position.  Ukraine, successfully corralling Russia’s forces against the Dnipro River creating the conditions for a ‘kesselschlacht‘; or cauldron battle in which a force is encircled and slowly destroyed.  This situation has been developing for months and we discussed Russia’s dangerous situation in early-September (See – Kesselschlacht, the name for Russia’s nightmare in Kherson) and later predicted that Ukraine would take Kherson (See – Kherson, Russians are being cooked – What next?) probably forcing the Russians to withdraw without having to fight for the city.   Looking at the situation from a strictly tactical perspective, the Russians would have been smarter to withdraw sooner.

However, they didn’t and last week’s activities provide an interesting insight into the what is going on behind the walls of the Kremlin.  In recent weeks, the Russian’s withdrew heavy equipment and command infra-structure, east across the Dnipro River but were also moving newly mobilised soldiers west across the river into Kherson. It looked like the plan was to use the freshly mobilised soldiers to defend the city, hoping that winter would slow down Ukraine and give time for the more experienced soldiers evacuated from the area to rebuild Russia’s military power. Early last week, we discovered that some Russian elite units were on the west side of the Dnipro and on Friday Russia anounced it would withdraw all of its forces to the east side of the Dnipro.  An operation that is nearly finished.  

After months of looking like Russia was going to sacrifice lots of soldiers in a tough and probably unsuccessful defence of Kherson, things have changed and Russia has made a sensible tactical decision.  By withdrawing the Russians gain a number of key tactical advantages:

  • The frontline is shortened; and from the coast to Erenhodar (roughly the nothern point of Russian control) is secured by a major river.  This move shrinks the current frontline from roughly 750km to about 650km of which approximately 220km is protected by the wide and deep Dnipro River. This geographical feature significantly reduces the manpower required to hold this section of frontline.  
  • Approximately another 20,000 soldiers are released that can be used elsewhere. It is estimated that Russia had about 20,000 soldiers west of the Dnipro River and they can now be deployed eleswhere in the campaign. 
  • Ukrainian momentum is stalled in the south.  The Dnipro River is a major obstacle and in my assessment it is unlikely that the Ukrainians have the capability (or will develop it in the short term) to make an opposed crossing of the Dnipro River. 

Russia has made a sound tactical decision.  

And; as we have often discussed the link between a tactical decision and strategy needs to be understood.  The decision indicates that Russia’s new overall commander in the Ukraine, General Surovakin has Putin’s confidence and is providing a clear vision for the war.  Recently, Russia’s conventional military has been increasingly subject to public criticism by rising ‘war lords‘; Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Both of whom control large private armies engaged in the Ukraine War; and who benefit politically and financially from undermining the conventional military.

The withdrawal from Kherson indicates that Surovakin is winning the political battle within the Kremlin.  He is aware of the political nature of war and has prepared Russian politicians and the public for the withdrawal, carefully indicating the possibility and stage managing how the public were informed.  Even forcing Prigozhin and Kadyrov to publicly support the withdrawal.  

Winning the political battle within the Kremlin must also entail a strategic vision within which the withdrawal from Kherson is justified; and contributes to a wider plan. Surovakin’s plan is likely to be simple and focussed around three key actions:

  • Redefine the military aims of the campaign.  Russia is losing the campaign militarily and to retain any hope of victory it needs to carefully choose how it fights and where its resources are used. At this stage his advice is likely to be – concentrate on retaining the land bridge to Crimea by:
    • Reducing the frontage that Russia needs to defend.  Transition to a managable defensive delays defeat and by withdrawing east of the Dnipro River about a third of the new shorter frontline is almost impossible to attack. 
    • Stalling Ukrainian momentum.  Although the Ukrainians are celebrating the recapture of Kherson, the Dnipro River is a formidable obstacle and is likely to stop any offensive movement west.  Ukraine will need to try to move troops from the Kherson area elsewhere to re-establish the initiative.  And; the frontline is now much shorter, so making an offensive break through anywhere along it willl be harder.
    • Regain the initiative. Use the forces released from defending Kherson to reinforce offensive operations to capture Donetsk. If Donetsk Oblast is completely in Russian hands alongside the area currently controlled between the Dnipro and Mariupol, the land bridge to Crimea is secure and Russia’s stated aim of liberating Luhansk and Donetsk is acheived.  


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  • Continue the aerial bombardment of the Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. While the military campaign is being waged ‘on the ground‘, keep attacking Ukraine’s civilian infra-structure; to make the war as uncomfortable as possible for the Ukrainian people, hamper the re-deployment of Ukrainian military resources and to maintain ultra-nationalist political support within Russia.


  • Strategically, continue the hybrid war against NATO and the United States aiming to split away support and force Ukraine to bargain. European and American support is not garuanteed.  If the military conflict can be extended; or appear to be an uncertain, long-term commitment Russia may be able to strip away Ukraine’s support. The gas embargo, the increased cost of security and the impact of Russian disinformation campaigns may yet create division in NATO and a withdrawal of support if the war can be prolonged. 

In summary, it appears that there has been an outbreak of sensibleness in the Kremlin.  That Surovakin is winning the internal political battle and is starting a more coordinated and tactically realistic phase of the campaign.  Many commentators this week pointed out that although Putin accepts the withdrawal from Kherson, there will be lots of pressure on Surovakin to make gains.  If Surovakin is quick; and his forces agile, then he may be able to because he now has a reserve of 20,000 soldiers that can be redeployed.  Perhaps to strengthen the offensive in Donetsk? 

On the Ukrainian side this is a period of great uncertainty. The withdrawal may rob them of the initiative and they need to quickly reassess the situation and move troops between fronts immediately.  If I was advising the Ukrainians, I would give up any notion of crossing the Dnipro River.  It will be too difficult, even large well-trained armies would struggle to ‘force’ a crossing of a river this size. Instead, I would prop and ‘dig in’ just outside artillery range on the west side.  Any Russian attempt to cross would face the same problems and be easy to defeat. The ‘Dnipro Line’ could be held with a fraction of the 60,000 soldiers estimated to be in the area and the line becomes a ‘firm base’ for Ukrainian forces to ‘pivot’ around in later offensives. Any remaining Ukrainian soldiers could then be transferred to reinforce Zaporizhzhia or Donetsk.  Ready, in case of a sudden Russian offensive or perhaps to regain the initiative with a Ukrainian thrust towards Melitopol or Mariupol; either or which could split the ‘land corridor’ to Crimea and further frustrate Russian ambitions. 


The Ukrainians are in a more secure position and will be encouraged by other outbreaks of sensibleness around the world. First, the United States mid-term elections did not produce the predicted ‘Red Wave’ of Trump supporting candidates. Instead, United States voters demonstrated that they are losing their interest in Trump and his divisive and un-democratic rhetoric; and as this article is being written it is possible that the Democrats may win the Senate.  An unusual mid-term election result, normally the incumbent party suffers much more during mid-term elections. The effect of this election on the war in Ukraine should not be under-estimated because Europe’s response and support for Ukraine is predicated on the United States being engaged.  It is very likely that without United States support Eastern Ukraine would now be part of Russia. The United States mid-term election results (even as they stand now) provide greater certainty for Ukraine that their strongest supporter will continue to back them.

The second outbreak of sensibleness this week is the increasing rapprochement between China and the United States.  It is clear that China’s support for Putin has waned.  In recent weeks, China’s influence on Putin is likely to have contributed to him toning down Russia’s nuclear rhetoric.  China appears to be looking for reasonable and responsible dialogue with United States.  Both countries this week announcing that they were planning ’talks about talks’ in preparation for the approaching G20 summit in Indonesia.  Realistically, there is a need for China and the United States to maintain open dialogue.  Talking is always better than fighting; and it appears that now Xi Jinping is confirmed in power, he is ready to stop sabre rattling and start talking. The United States and China working together is important for the war in Ukraine, the sooner the post-COVID economy can be built the stronger the economies supporting Ukraine will be and the less likely that Russia’s hybrid war will produce results.  

In the next few weeks it is likely that we will see:

  • A stabilisation of the Kherson front along the Dnipro River, as Ukraine secures the west and Russia ‘digs in’ on the east.  It is highly unlikely that the Ukrainians will be able to cross the river, so expect to see this area become more static.
  • More Russian attacks on Ukrainian infra-structure.  In recent weeks issues have been raised about Ukraine’s ability to maintain its air defence operations.  Shooting down drones is exhausting their stocks of surface to air missiles so we will see the campaign continue and may start to see more Russian air force activity. 
  • It seems likely that there will be a large-scale Russian offensive in or near Donetsk.  Surovakin needs to demonstrate success; and now has 20,000 soldiers available. Succeeding in doing what Prigozhin’s Wagner Group couldn’t by capturing territory in Donetsk would secure his political position and may contribute to a larger campaign plan.  Further, it makes sense, within the ‘medieval’ politics of the Kremlin, that by attacking in this area the sacrifice of Prigozhin’s men can be used to contribute to Surovakin’s plan.  
  • The Ukrainians are less likely to move to the offensive in the short term.  It is likely that they are as tired as their adversaries and it will take time to reduce numbers around Kherson and move them elsewhere.  However, Ukraine has proven my predictions wrong before and if they do have the forces to open a new offensive, driving south towards Melitopol or Mariupol and splitting the land bridge the morale impact on the Russians would be enormous. 
  • Instead the Ukrainians are more likely to dig in, consolidate and prepare for offensive action early in the New Year when the ground freezes.  However, expect to see lots of HIMARS and drone attacks launched from near Kherson towards Russian positions in the Crimea because even if a ground attack from that direction is unlikely this activity maintains administrative, logistic and political pressure on the Russians.

Finally, last week represents a new phase in the war, one in which political tensions inside the Kremlin may have been suppressed by the development of a tactically sensible plan for the campaign, contributing to the existing Russian strategy.  After weeks of political instability and the noise of Prigozhin, Kadyrov and ultra-nationalist military bloggers, it appears that the conventional military faction is back in control and is injecting some sensible and realistic decision-making into Russian planning. How long this will last is anybody’s guess though.


Ben Morgan is a tired Gen X interested in international politics. He is TDB’s Military analyst.


  1. I dont think Ukraine will even try and cross the Dnipro river and head east. Instead they will attack from the north, heading southwards through Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol, cutting the Russian occupied territory in half. That would eliminate to already stretched ability of Russia, to service, supply and hold the territory west of the Donbass region.

    The other problem for Russia is that they no longer control the water access to the North Crimea Canal and thus Crimea water supply is again at risk. Canal supplies 85% of Crimea’s water needs.

    If Ukraine is successful in obtaining the long range ATACMS rockets system from the USA, then targets like the Kerch Bridge fall just inside the rockets range from Kherson.

    USA is reluctant to release the weapon system for fear of their use onto Russian proper soil.

  2. Good commentary Ben and good additional point by Gerrit. Ukraine can shell the only rail line that can supply Russian troops south of the Dnipro and can interrupt the water supply to Crimea. That means they can slowly starve out the Russians in the south.

    With the midterms done, would Biden give Ukraine a handful of longer range HIMARS to finish knocking out the rail bridge to Crimea? Or will the west supply them with more modern aircraft? It has already been suggested by a western thinktank that they get Gripens. Is the Ukraine air force already conversion training their pilots in a western nation?

    We’ve learnt during this war that the Ukrainians are capable of being inventive in their tactics. My bet is that they will surprise us all.

  3. Russia is taking a pragmatic CBA approach.
    The calm before the Winter …storm.
    Both sides should negotiate and end to this pointless exercise.

  4. A good assessment Ben.
    Personally, I think the Dnipro still has a part to play FOR the Ukrainians. Whether or not as a straight out attack or just as a diversion.
    The Ukrainians run rings around the Russians for adaptability, speed, and imagination so my preference is for all cards on the table.
    Just watch…

    • It’s the censorship Gadtabrian ,,,, the censorship’s made it all go quiet ,,,, but clowns like you get a free run ,,,,

      Enjoy it, as you approve of it.

      We’ve been RT’d :0

  5. You re the complete picture, Ben. Don’t know what we’ve done to deserve you.

    You prevented me going for ‘this is all Russia and we’ll go for the nukes now’. I think Ukraine should charge into Don-Luh at the weakest point.

  6. So here on Tuesday 15th November, we are getting reports that the Kinburnskaya peninsular on the left bank of the Dnipro (the eastern or Russian side), has been taken over by a large group of Ukrainian infantry. Not only that but it appears the Ukrainians have already established in Oleshki, the first major town on the left side of the Antonovsky bridge.
    What Dnipro barrier?
    I’d be inclined to put my money on the Ukrainians…

    • If the Ukrainians are already over the Dnipro that is a real worry for the Russians – where have you read this?

  7. “…injecting some sensible and realistic decision-making into Russian planning.”
    This statement is a contradiction in terms. There has been no sensible and realistic decsion-making from the Russians since Vlad the Impaler decided to make his country the no.1 pariah state of the world and cement his place in history as the chief baby killer of Satan’s latter day fascists.

  8. From the beginning of this war a staple of Russian propaganda is that the war in Ukraine is not a war waged by Russia against Ukraine, but a war waged by the US/Nato against Russia.

    So what are we to make of this latest report from RT?

    The media erupted after a missile landed on Polish territory this week and took the lives of two civilians. Given the accusations leveled at Russia in the hours following the incident, the invocation of Article Five of the NATO Treaty governing collective security would not have come as a complete surprise…..

    ….Western European and American officials hurried to tone down their indignation and put a lid on the situation

    ….Shortly thereafter, Warsaw itself acknowledged that it had likely falsely implicated Moscow

    ….Western leaders preferred to refrain from aiming aggressive accusations at Russia.

    ….Peskov characterized the American reaction as restrained and professional.

    …the West “put the brakes on everything,” and the US quickly took cover behind the version that it was a Ukrainian rocket…

    RT concludes that if Western Europe or the US are not attacked, Russian imperialism can do whatever it wants in Eastern Europe, the US and Nato will not directly intervene.

    …this episode is extremely important for Russia, because it shows that the US is not prepared to invoke Article Five until there is a danger to the country itself or at least to some of the most important member states of the bloc, primarily Western Europe.

  9. The US tells Russia, Eastern Europe is not our sphere of influence.
    While the US and Nato may be happy to see their imperial rival get a bloody nose at the hands of Ukraine.

    The US and Russian imperialists understand each other.

    From RT the Russian government mouthpiece.

    Amid increasing tensions in Eastern Europe, US officials have reportedly called on their allies to show restraint when commenting on this week’s deadly missile blast in Poland. That’s according to news outlet Politico, which added that the same message had been forwarded to the Ukrainian government….

    …these statements “illustrate one of the first major divergences in opinion between Washington and Kiev” since the start of Russia’s military campaign in the neighboring state in late February. US officials are trying to downplay this rift, but new fissures between Washington and Kiev may emerge as the conflict drags on, the report says.

  10. More comments today about Ukraine crossing to the TL bank of the Dnipro River from various sources including Russian. Just probing attacks in three or four places and not a full scale assault. The tip of Kinburn Peninsular which is now held by a small Ukranian force. Russians are moving defence lines further back from the TL bank and are continuing to entrench near Crimea. There are skirmishes happening in the towns on the TL bank near the bridges/ferry crossing points. Russia seem very half hearted in their defence of the remainder of Kherson Oblast that they still occupy and look as if they will give it up if pushed hard. So much for “Russian forever” etc.

  11. “the goal is to destroy the enemies military & with it, it’s ability to wage war. Antforce62, yes I get that, and so do the USA & Brits. It is the Russian military that has been more seriously degraded and is bleeding out. It has gone from supposedly the second most capable in the world to a seriously degraded non effective force that has lost international respect. Major powers know Russia is nearly spent militarily. Ukraine would have lost by now but for Western support. Surely you can see the West is giving Ukraine enough support to stop it being overrun by Russia but not enough to quickly repel Russia. All part of seeing the Russian military and economy seriously degraded before a negotiated peace occurs. After this is over I can see Ukraine joining the EU and Nato. Just what will Russia have achieved? Perhaps retaining some of the Donbass or retaining Crimea plus all their frozen overseas assets given to Ukraine, sanctions ended dependent on Russians facing war crime trials, the cementing of their status as being an international pariah and hopefully a country militarily unable to invade neighbours for a long time!

  12. This dates from 14/11 and now its 28/11 – I missed it before. The headline sucks me in like a magnet – A sudden attack of sensibleness or something. This is now a must read and can we please find other little pools of sensibleness which will provide something to cool our fevered brows! Can we have a sensibleness heading every day with some real happening or very very good policy as the subject? Wouldn’t it be luverly, luverly..breaking into song.

  13. there seems to be a slight undercurrent of ‘let’s go to the table’ from the west….only a murmer but it’s there.

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