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What Russia’s Kherson Retreat Means for the War

Moscow’s withdrawal marks a humiliating battlefield setback that could worsen already-dismal morale.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Ukrainian artillery unit members fire toward Kherson amid Russia's military invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian artillery unit members fire toward Kherson amid Russia's military invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian artillery unit members fire toward Kherson amid Russia's military invasion of Ukraine on Oct. 28. BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russia’s retreat from Kherson, U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner’s transfer to a Russian penal colony, and China’s latest lockdowns. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Russia Announces Retreat From Kherson 

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russia’s retreat from Kherson, U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner’s transfer to a Russian penal colony, and China’s latest lockdowns. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Russia Announces Retreat From Kherson 

Russian forces will withdraw from the strategic city of Kherson, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Wednesday, after failing to rebuff advancing Ukrainian troops who had largely encircled the city. 

Kherson was the only regional capital that Moscow had successfully seized since launching its invasion, and its decision to abandon the city marks a humiliating battlefield setback that could worsen already-dismal morale among the Russian ranks. Each side has likely sustained as many as 100,000 military casualties from the war, according to U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

Russia’s retreat is a “hard fought victory for Ukraine,” tweeted Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia program and a former Marine Corps officer. “The big question now is whether Russia can withdraw without taking heavy equipment and personnel losses. Ukraine has every incentive to make this withdrawal as chaotic and costly as possible.”

Ukrainian troops have for months launched a coordinated counteroffensive to force Russia from the city, attacking bridges and key supply routes in order to ramp up the pressure. On Wednesday, Kyiv warned that Shoigu’s announcement could be a ploy to bait Ukrainian forces into an ambush, although the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that it “is unlikely to be a trap.”

“ISW has previously observed many indicators that Russian forces, military and economic assets, and occupation elements have steadily withdrawn from the west bank across the Dnipro River,” it said in a report. “Russian officials have been anticipating and preparing for withdrawal in a way that is incompatible with a campaign to deceive and trap Ukrainian troops.”

Among prominent Russian bloggers and military analysts, the announcement triggered mixed reactions of criticism, distress, and support, with one person deeming it the country’s “most serious military defeat since 1991,” the New York Times reported

For Ukraine, Russia’s exit from Kherson could help translate into greater international support. “The battlefield victory gives Ukraine hope of more Western aid as Congress prepares to debate a lame-duck military aid package before the new Congress is sworn in next January,” Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch reported.


What We’re Following Today

Brittney Griner’s fate. U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner has been sent to a Russian penal colony to begin a nine-year prison sentence, her attorneys announced on Wednesday. Russian authorities detained her in February before the war in Ukraine began; she lost her appeal last month

Griner’s lawyers said they are still waiting to be notified of her ultimate location. “We do not have any information on her exact current location or her final destination,” her lawyers said

China’s stringent lockdowns. Chinese authorities have partially locked down the southern megacity of Guangzhou, as almost one-third of China’s new COVID-19 infections come from the city. In Foreign Policy, Amanda Florian has reported on how Beijing’s harsh approach to stamping out the virus has stoked xenophobia. “For foreigners living in China, disease stigma and mistrust have become commonplace over the last two years,” she wrote. 


Keep an Eye On

Greece’s unrest. Thousands of people protested against soaring inflation and costs of living in Greece on Wednesday, resulting in some clashes between demonstrators and police officers. Workers also participated in a strike for higher salaries on Wednesday. 

“We can no longer bear the high costs. We can no longer bear the poverty. We can no longer bear the exhaustion,” Giorgos Paliouras, a protester, told Reuters

Haiti’s deadly cholera outbreak. At least 136 people have been killed in Haiti by a cholera outbreak that began in October; 89 of them died in health facilities and 47 passed away in their homes, said Haiti’s Health Ministry.

“Lack of access to clean water and sanitation, pervasive food insecurity, and inadequate health care create perfect conditions for a dangerous cholera outbreak,” said César Muñoz, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.


Wednesday’s Most Read

The Cult of Modi by Ramachandra Guha

Conservative U.S. Statecraft for the 21st Century  by Nadia Schadlow

It’s Woman vs. Woman in Iran’s Protests by Anchal Vohra


Odds and Ends 

In order to sneak a handgun through a Florida airport, someone thought they could outsmart the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by stuffing the weapon into a raw chicken. While creative, the plan was ultimately unsuccessful and ended up as fodder for the TSA’s legendary Instagram account

“We hate to beak it to you here, but stuffing a firearm in your holiday bird for travel is just a baste of time,” the TSA said in an Instagram post on the foiled plot. “This idea wasn’t even half-baked; it was raw, greasy, and obviously unsupervised. The only roast happening here is this poor packing choice!”

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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