A Great Battle for Kherson: What Is at Stake?

Monitoring various media resources, majority highlight Ukrainian forces rising pressure on the Russian military in Kherson to liberate this area, which came under Russian control at the beginning of its offensive in February. At the end of September, through a referendum, the accession of Kherson to Russia has been officially announced. Referendum held has not been recognized by United Nations. Some military analysts consider the battle for Kherson as the imminent beginning of a “big war” and the loss of this area could be a problem for the Kremlin from a strategic point of view. In a clear sign that the start of this vital war is approaching, President Putin officially declared the evacuation of civilians from Kherson on November 5. At the same time, US officials told Politico on Friday night that the achievements of the Ukrainian military in recent weeks in Kherson are “spectacular” and that Russia is in an “advanced stage of preparing to withdraw from Kherson.” [1] But why is Kherson region so important for both sides?

Besides the actual strategic importance, Kherson has a great historical value for Russia. It’s an undisputable fact that initially Kherson has been a Russian port city. Kherson city was founded by Catherine II, by issuing a decree on June 18, “On the appointment of a place for an establishment on the estuary of a harbor and a shipyard and on the name of it Kherson.” Thus, Kherson became both a port and a sea outpost of the Russian Empire. In fact, Kherson region, which was ceded to Russia as result of Kyuchuk-Kaynarji peace treaty, stood on the defense of Russian borders from the possible re-expansion of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, Kherson became the “cradle” of the Black Sea Fleet, where flotilla began to be built and was based there until the moment of new territorial acquisitions of Russian Empire in the southeast direction. Actually, the region, which is now unofficially called Novorossia, began to grow around Kherson.

Kherson region is bordering the Crimean peninsula, thus, it allows Russia to have land access to it. As Reuters reports: ” Putin sees Crimea as a key achievement of his more than two decades in power; peninsula is home to a huge Russian military force and the Black Sea Fleet, which Moscow uses to project power into the Mediterranean and the Middle East”.

The capture of this area by the Ukrainian forces can cut off Moscow’s land access to Crimea and strengthen Ukraine’s military position to retake the Crimean peninsula. Military experts say that with the recapture of Kherson by Ukraine, the country will have the opportunity to deploy their long-range artillery on the borders of Crimea, and due to modern equipment such as the HIMARS system, Ukrainians can succeed in operation.

Such situation has been truly summarized by the military expert Mikhail Pritula that “ it is not a battle for Kherson anymore, but for Crimea”.[2]

At the same time, taking of Kherson region by Russia has caused Ukraine to find its access to the Black Sea largely limited. The recapture of this area can help Ukraine to increase grain exports through the Black Sea and reduce Russia’s ability to completely blockade Ukraine.

Thirdly, if Ukraine can take back the Kherson region, it will be difficult for Russia to supply fresh water to the Crimean peninsula. In 2014, the Ukrainian authorities blocked the Dnieper river water transfer route to Crimea. However, after the start of Russia’s operation in Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian military reopened the Dnieper River water transfer route to Crimea after the Zaporozhye region and large parts of the Kherson region came under Russian control.

Fourthly, the Kherson region is important for its logistic capacities. The Dnieper River, which divides Ukraine into eastern and western parts, flows through Kherson province as well. The center of this province is the city of Kherson, which is located on the west bank of the Dnieper River. The strategic location of this region, allows Russian forces to deliver equipment from and to Crimea and to transfer to other regions, such as Zaporozhye. Military analyst, Oleg Zhdanov states that the western bank of the Dnieper River is of vital value for both sides. This area is important for Russia, because it can strengthen the country’s defense position to maintain the occupied areas in the south, especially Zaporozhye and Crimea, and provide faster and more reliable supply lines for its military forces. It is also important for Ukraine for three reasons: the land, the destruction of the enemy’s logistics lines and the creation of a suitable situation for the recapture of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant and Crimea.[3]

Kherson is very important for Russians in two other aspects. The city of Kherson is the first and only provincial center that Russia has managed to capture since the start of the Ukraine war on February 24. It was a great military victory for the Russians, who failed in Kharkiv in the northeast and Kiev in the north. Alexander Musienko, a retired colonel, says “lot at stake in Kherson. For the Ukrainians, taking back this regional capital would be huge for morale — and a strategic win. It would also set the stage to take back parts of the neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, including a nuclear power plant that the Russians control.” [4] De-occupation of Kherson will destroy Russian plans to move forward to Kryvyi Rih, to Mykolaiv or to Odesa. It would not only deal a blow to Russian’s plans to cut off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, but also would be terrible embarrassment to Moscow, Musienko adds. According to him, this issue will have consequences inside Russia as well and can significantly increase the internal political pressure on President Putin. Earlier, the Washington Post reported that some developments in the battlefield caused a number of people from President Putin’s inner circle to voice their disagreement over situation in Ukraine.[5]

Many analysts already express the views that the battle for Kherson will become a second Stalingrad [6] that will completely change the course of the events. Some argue that Russian army deliberately delays the confrontation into the cold season, when military actions change significantly [7]. Some, analyzing Russia and Ukraine’s mutual accusations in attempts to damage Nova Kakhovka dam, claim that there is a probability to use nuclear weapons in the area, to escalate the situation militarily, politically and diplomatically. In any case, I can say that, the blase importance given by the West to Kherson region is related to outcomes of the battle in the area, that first of all will change the conjecture of Russia-West relations.


[1] https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-vladimir-putin-plans-to-withdraw-from-kherson-ukraine-well-advanced-says-western-official/

[2] https://tsn.ua/ru/ato/borba-za-krym-voennyy-ekspert-rasskazal-o-vazhnosti-hersona-dlya-rossiyan-2195797.html

[3] https://odessa-journal.com/oleg-zhdanov-after-the-liberation-of-kherson-the-armed-forces-of-ukraine-will-also-go-in-the-zaporizhzhia-direction/

[3] Franco Ordoñez, “In the battle for Kherson, Ukrainian infantry officers say don’t underestimate Russia”, October 28, 2022, Retrieved from: https://health.wusf.usf.edu/2022-10-28/in-the-battle-for-kherson-ukrainian-infantry-officers-say-dont-underestimate-russia

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/07/putin-inner-circle-dissent/

[5] https://reseauinternational.net/kherson-sera-t-il-un-nouveau-stalingrad/

[6] https://war.obozrevatel.com/voloshin-putin-lyubit-voevat-zimoj-tri-vazhnyih-nyuansa-na-blizhajshie-mesyatsyi-intervyu.htm

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