Russia's Kherson Retreat Puts HIMARS In Range of Crucial Supply Route

A critical supply route in Kherson Oblast may be viewed as a strategic military opportunity following the Russian military's announcement of a troop transfer to east of the Dnipro River.

Russia's newest head of forces, Sergey Surovikin, said Wednesday that the soldiers' retreat is being conducted to "preserve the lives of our soldiers and the combat capability of the troop group." The timetable is set for "the near future."

It presents Ukraine with the ability to enforce aggression on a land bridge and multiple Russian logistic sites and ammunition dumps, the Financial Times reported. Ukraine could theoretically use weapons supplied by the West, such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), to target the routes.

Serhiy Kuzan, adviser at Ukraine's defense ministry, told the Times that the Kherson province on the right bank of the Dnipro River is "strategically important from a military standpoint as it gives us firepower control of the roads from Crimea used as supply lines by the Russians."

On Thursday, the Pentagon announced a $400 million security and defense package that includes Stinger missiles, HAWK air defense system missiles, more HIMARS ammunition, 100 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, 400 grenade launchers and more than 20,000,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition.

The U.S. has committed more than $19.3 billion in security assistance in total to Ukraine since the beginning of the President Joe Biden administration.

"With Russia's unrelenting and brutal air attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, additional air defense capabilities are critical," the Pentagon said.

Air Force Brigadier General and Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder speculated Tuesday that Russia is looking to defend that territory for the long term, or it could be "part of a rear guard action as they look to retrograde out of that area."

"Regardless, you continue to see the Ukrainians apply pressure on them, and as I have mentioned, our focus is on ensuring they have what they need on the battlefield right now to be successful," Ryder said.

Jordan Cohen, policy analyst at the CATO Institute, told Newsweek that Russia's purported move shows that things are going well for Ukraine.

"Kherson was the only provincial capital Moscow captured, it represents a significant moral victory, it cuts off Russia's access to the Northern Crimean Canal, Putin cannot build a 'land bridge' to Russia, and it lets Ukraine point to this victory as a reason for continued Western support," Cohen said.

Kherson Retreat Russia Ukraine HIMARS Putin Zelensky
A damaged statue is pictured in the Kherson border region village, outside of Mykolaiv, on October 31, 2022. A Russian retreat of soldiers is causing skepticism while invoking strategy about Ukraine's response. BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

It shouldn't change the strategy regarding the use of HIMARS, he added, which let Ukraine cut off Russian soldiers in the region from their supply lines.

"I think Ukraine's plan is to take as much territory and have as much battlefield success as possible prior to the winter," he said.

Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández, research associate at the Arms Control Association, told Newsweek Russia's move is contingent upon how it decides to conduct troop withdrawal amid potential losses of life.

"The withdrawal is based on the assessment that it is simply unsustainable for Russian units to hold the line due to manpower deficit, while new targets will now be in the range of weapon systems the Ukrainians possess," she said. "While Russian units abandon their positions, it might get harder for Ukrainian forces to liberate territories as they continue to make gains.

"As Russia focuses on harvesting manpower and getting more equipment, Russia may be able to substantially reinforce its hold on the other occupied territories."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his troops need to tread lightly due to the prospect that Russian soldiers will not leave without a fight. His aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, has expressed incredulity with Surovikin's statements and warned of the Kremlin's objective to turn Kherson into a "city of death."

Cohen said Crimean supply lines become more vulnerable if Ukraine can push Russians even farther east, admittedly not an easy task, as it seems Russia is positioning itself more defensively.

"I think that Russia's positioning is going to make HIMARS being pushed further forwards not all that much more useful unless Ukraine can continue pushing farther East," Cohen said. "The eastern bank is easier for Russia to defend, though, because the Ukrainians would need to cross water while under fire from Russia."

Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries for comment.