According to Meduza sources close to the Kremlin, the presidential administration has prepared several new manuals for Russian propagandists. They indicate how to talk about the situation in Kherson – to prepare “public opinion” in Russia for the fact that the city can be abandoned.
One of the documents states that the Kherson direction is “the most difficult for the Russian army at the current stage of the special operation.” Propagandists are offered to explain this situation by the fact that Ukraine “it is vitally necessary to demonstrate the combat capability of its terrorist formations to ask for new help from the West”:
“Kyiv will not reckon with its own losses – it is ready to ruin tens of thousands of its own and others for the sake of new trenches and arms supplies. Russian troops seek to save the lives of civilians and personnel. The danger of a massive strike on the city by a huge group of nationalists dictated the evacuation of civilians from the city to the left bank of the Dnieper.”
The pro-Russian authorities began deporting people from the right bank of the Dnieper in the annexed Kherson region back in mid-October. In early November, Vladimir Putin announced that the “civilian population” of Kherson should be “removed” from the combat zone, and the occupying authorities announced a “forced evacuation.”
On November 7, the end of this “evacuation” was announced, some residents remain in the city and wait for the arrival of the Ukrainian army.
As another reason for a possible retreat from Kherson, the training manual states that Ukraine and the NATO countries “threw all their forces” precisely in this direction of the front, and this threatens with “enormous bloodshed”:
“Zelensky wants to put on a bloody show for the whole world, present the Armed Forces of Ukraine as sufferers, and demand new money. The enemy wants Kherson to become a trap for Russia, a battlefield with tens of thousands of victims.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine are planning to stage a terrorist attack, destroying the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station. Undermining the hydroelectric power station can become a “trap” for our fighters. In this case, settlements with civilians will be flooded, our military will find themselves in a cauldron and will not even be able to take the fight – they will simply be washed away.”
Earlier, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated that it was the Russian military who mined the dam of the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station; due to its explosion, about 80 Ukrainian settlements, including Kherson, may be flooded.
In addition, propagandists are advised to emphasize that urban fighting in Kherson is “inappropriate”, because “they are always the most difficult and destructive”, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine “can simply raze Kherson to the ground.”
Russian troops in Kherson are indeed in a difficult position. Their supply is extremely difficult due to the fact that the main bases are located on the other side of the Dnieper, and the Ukrainian side constantly fires upon the bridges. Supply difficulties make it virtually impossible to build up this grouping for a full-fledged defense.
The second training manual, prepared in the Kremlin, states that state propaganda needs to “pay attention” to the speech of Anatoly Torkunov, a diplomat, historian, and political scientist, a member of the scientific council under the Security Council of the Russian Federation. At a meeting between Putin and historians, Torkunov recalled the Battle of Poltava and said that before the victory, Peter I “withdrew to Poltava” and that the retreat eventually led to “a turning point in the war.”
Two sources close to the Kremlin noted that the Russian authorities now view the surrender of Kherson as an “undesirable” but “probable” scenario at the front. Previously, Russian officials (including the highest-ranking ones) have said more than once that “Russia is forever” in the region’s territories captured at the very beginning of the war.
“I would like, once again, addressing the residents of the Kherson region, to say that Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about this. There will be no return to the past. We will live together,” said, in particular, the Secretary of the General Council of the “United Russia” Andrey Turchak in May.
At the same time, Meduza’s interlocutors, who are close to the Kremlin, made the reservation that, in general, the situation in this part of the front does not depend on Moscow but on the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “If there is no massive offensive, then there will be no surrender,” one of them explained. “If it does, it is very, very likely.”
According to Meduza’s interlocutors, the final decision to withdraw from Kherson will have to be made personally by Putin, with the participation of people from his “inner circle” (after the outbreak of the war, it mainly consists of high-ranking security officials).
At the same time, according to sources, the Kremlin allegedly still expects that the Russian army will be able to launch a new large-scale offensive in Ukraine in the winter of 2023. The Kremlin is increasingly talking about possible negotiations with Ukraine to gain time and prepare the maximum number of mobilized Russians by this deadline. Western media noted that Odessa could be the potential target of this offensive. According to them, the Kremlin could target Odessa as “the main strategic prize in the next stage of the war.”