Will the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) liberate Kherson in the foreseeable future?
Will Ukraine have light and heat as winter looms?
Will the U.S. and other Western democracies continue to help Ukraine?
Read the answers to these and other questions in the traditional weekly review from Information Defense experts.
Last week, fighting centered on the right bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region. In other areas of the front, an operational pause appears to have taken hold. In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy has somewhat reduced the pace of its offensive actions, although the situation there remains difficult. Near Svatove and Kreminna in the Luhansk region, the UAF is regrouping its forces and accumulating reserves.
Focusing on Kherson, the UAF has forced the enemy into an extremely difficult situation. Russian forces are under constant pressure, facing significant problems with fuel, reserves and weapons. All bridges over the Dnipro are now unfit for road traffic, and pontoon crossings and river transport are unable to ensure the supply of sufficient weapons and food for units of the Russian occupying forces.
In a recent interview, Russia’s “butcher-general” Sergey Surovikin stated the possibility of “making difficult decisions.” The evacuation of the so-called “authorities” from the right to the left bank of the Dnipro has been announced, and the aggressor’s troops are being redeployed under the guise of a “voluntary-forced” resettlement of Ukrainian civilians.
According to information announced by President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia could be preparing another “false flag” operation.
To cover their retreat, the occupiers have planted explosives and are ready to blow up the Kakhovska hydroelectric power plant dam. Destruction of the dam would lead to a large-scale disaster, with widespread flooding of Kherson and 80 other settlements, along with the deaths of peaceful Ukrainian residents. Russian is expected to blame our military for the disaster.
Key takeaway: Panic is growing among the occupiers. All signs indicate that the UAF is set to regain control of Kherson which, for Russian President Vladimir Putin, could be a decisive blow. With the return of recently and illegally annexed territory to its Motherland, Putin’s policy of aggression faces complete collapse, with repercussions both for the Russian political class and the ordinary subjects of the Kremlin dictator.
Attempts to “bomb” Ukraine back to the dark ages
Last week, Russia continued missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure across Ukraine, hitting open distribution devices and transformer high-voltage substations. The purpose of the campaign is to make it impossible to connect thermal power plants that produce electricity to the unified energy system, and, therefore, to “freeze” the entire country.
On Oct. 19-21, widespread power outages struck Ukraine, affecting enterprises and the homes of ordinary civilians, who were forced to switch to total economy mode.
Is Ukraine at risk of a blackout, i.e. complete disconnection from the electricity supply? Experts assure us that such a situation is unlikely.
First, the Ukrainian energy system has multiple redundancy and a capacity reserve of approximately 40,000 megawatts. The problem today is not energy production, but its delivery to the combined energy system, i.e. to consumers.
Ukraine has turned to its partners with an urgent request for the supply of transformers and distribution stations (even used ones) because the production of new electricity will take from three to nine months. We hope that the necessary equipment will be delivered to Ukraine as soon as possible.
Second, in the near future, Ukrainian air defenses will be significantly strengthened. The system currently shoots down up to 60 percent of cruise missiles and 90 percent of Iranian moped drones. However, to protect citizens and infrastructure, it is not the number of downed air targets, but the number of “arrivals” that is important.
Western partners have promised to deliver new air defense systems that will qualitatively improve the protection of Ukrainian skies. Options for placing anti-aircraft installations, in particular ZU-24, directly in cities and near defense objects, are being actively discussed.
All these measures – when put in place – will significantly reduce (albeit never fully eliminate) the risk of damage caused by air attacks on the power grid and citizens’ homes.
Key takeaway: The winter ahead will not be easy. Civilians need to prepare for constant power and heat blackouts, but there will be no complete energy collapse. Difficult tests lie ahead for the military and for ordinary people, from which I am sure we will come out with dignity.
Alarming external signals
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the steadfastness of the coalition in support of Ukraine. However, the Ukrainian authorities received several alarming signals about possible changes by partner countries in the pace and volume of military-technical assistance.
On Nov. 8, mid-term elections to Congress will be held in the U.S. According to forecasts from American analysts, the Democrats are likely to lose their majority in the House of Representatives, which has a decisive influence on the provision of financial assistance to other countries.
Until recently, there was bipartisan support for Ukraine in the U.S. However, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who could become the House Speaker next year, last week warned that Ukraine should not count on a blank cheque. Moreover, the congressman proposes to limit financing of Ukraine’s struggle against Russia, and to direct funds to support the U.S. economy.
According to some experts, there may be a split in the Republican Party. Supporters of former President Donald Trump are in favor of limiting financial aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, “classic” Republicans, including Brian Fitzpatrick and Mitch McConnell, continue to adhere to the policy of comprehensive support for our country.
Taking into account the possible difficulties with funding next year, a number of Democrats and Republicans have initiated legislation to provide a much higher level of military and other aid than in previous packages. We are potentially talking about £50 billion for 2023, which would compensate for possible restrictions to come.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Britain’s Prime Minister Liz Truss set an anti-record on Oct. 20 for the shortest term in office. On the 45th day of her premiership, she announced her resignation.
At first glance, no significant changes in the U.K.’s policy towards Ukraine are foreseen. Indeed, a consensus has emerged among the British elite regarding total support for Ukraine in its struggle with Russia. However, the very atmosphere of chaos, uncertainty, and constant shuffling of government officials, negatively affects not only the situation inside the country, but its ability to conduct a systematic, consistent and predictable foreign policy.
Boris Johnson was seen as a contender to join the race to become Prime Minister but, on Oct. 23, pulled his hat out of the ring. His return would have been a boon for Ukrainians, who collectively welcomed his courageous support, but that ship now appears to have sailed. All eyes are now on Rishi Sunak and (perhaps less likely) Penny Mordaunt, with a rapid result due in days.
And, finally, we head over to Europe. The most uncertain nation in terms of future aid to Ukraine is Italy, where a right-wing radical coalition came to power in the recent elections. Some of the political forces of this coalition include the League and Forward Italy parties, with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi opposed to aid to Ukraine. For now, these are rather verbal statements, but we need to be ready for new changes in Italian foreign policy.
Key takeaway: The geopolitical pattern of the world is changing. For internal reasons combined with the secret work of diplomacy and intelligence concerning Russia, some countries have demonstrated that they are ready for unpredictable turns in their policy regarding the support of our country.
The Ukrainian authorities need to carefully monitor internal political processes in partner countries, predict probable undesirable changes, and form their own arsenal of legal countermeasures.
Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a National Government Organization (NGO) in Ukraine.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.
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