Russian troops today occupy Kherson and have carried out some limited assaults on Odesa.
The Russian army occupies most of the territory from Kherson and due east, including Mariupol. While Russia has said little about its long-term intentions, there is a growing awareness that Russia wants to consolidate the cities and towns, and even more importantly the ports along the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
Such a consolidation would connect Russia by land to Crimea. Should Russia be able to capture Mykolaiv (Nikolaev) and keep control of the massive nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, it could prove fatal to Ukraine’s long-term survival as an independent country.
Ukraine in the past few weeks has been stepping up its attacks on Kherson, Mykolaiv and elsewhere in the region, moving in newly supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and stepping up attacks against Russian air defenses, ammunition dumps and command centers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced his objective of retaking Kherson as soon as September.
Russia has kept a mostly limited force in and around Kherson as it concentrated its effort in the Donbas region. Many Russian troops have been brought home to be re-equipped, retrained and reinforced with new personnel and leadership.
Where these forces will locate when they are brought back into the war isn’t clear. Some analysts think they will go back to the Donbas as Russia aims to take Seversk and Bakhmut, which will help them consolidate the Donetz “republic,” just as they did in Luhansk.
But the Russian army can hold that area and rearrange its war front in the south just as easily. The Russian objective in Luhansk was not only territorial control. It was aimed at trapping Ukraine’s main force in a pincer movement. Ukraine pulled back its forces just in time to avoid that outcome.
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Stephen Bryen is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute