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The liberation of Kherson is a significant blow to Putin’s illegal war


3 min read

Russia’s renewed aggression against Ukraine continues to not go according to plan for Vladimir Putin.

Since March 2022, the city of Kherson has been under Russian occupation. On Friday 11 November, however, troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were greeted with jubilation in the centre of Kherson by locals as the city was liberated.

The significance of Kherson’s liberation goes beyond another military victory for Ukraine and the freeing of a subjugated population. The region is of immense strategic importance to both Ukraine and Russia. Its liberation also acts as another decisive psychological blow to those in the Kremlin, and a blow to morale for its soldiers on the ground. These psychological effects are, of course, reversed in Ukraine’s case.

Putin’s ineptitude has been exposed again

Kherson borders Crimea, a peninsula off the Black Sea illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. As a result, it gives Russia land access to the Black Sea, where it hosts its Black Sea Fleet – one of Moscow’s main tools for projecting power, namely in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Ukraine’s recent advancements have made this more difficult for Russia, limiting the manoeuvrability of its Black Sea Fleet and ability to retain its hold over Crimea.

This leads to another strategic outcome of Kherson’s liberation: the enhancement of Ukraine’s ability to recapture further territories. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is now firm in his belief that the Ukrainian armed forces are capable of liberating all territory annexed by Russia since 2014 and sees this as a prerequisite for peace. Controlling Kherson greatly enhances Ukraine’s ability to do so by enhancing its manoeuvrability and ability to strike Crimea with long-range artillery and allowing for the better concentration of military resources. This is true not just for Crimea but the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia region as well.

The psychological victory of Kherson’s liberation will also have a profound effect on the next stage of the war. Zelenskyy’s use of narrative and discourse since 24 February to unite non-Ukrainians behind Ukraine’s cause – most poignantly through his framing of Russia’s aggression as a threat to sovereign nations everywhere – has been decisive in creating and sustaining the high levels of morale evident in the Ukrainian armed forces. Kherson’s liberation will further lift it.

For Putin it is an embarrassment, not least because Kherson was illegally annexed in a “referendum” this September. The people of Kherson are not “becoming [Russian] citizens forever”, and Putin’s ineptitude as supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces has been exposed again. One can assume the liberation of Kherson has Putin’s close followers and even himself wondering: what’s next?

Russia’s response to military setbacks so far has been to pulverise Ukraine, namely with missile strikes on its cities and energy infrastructure. This tactic is intended to bring Ukraine to its knees by demoralising the population and armed forces through a combination of death and a lack of basic services. Between 85 and 100 missiles were launched into Ukraine on 15 November – after the liberation of Kherson – and they will not be the last.

So long as the Ukrainians continue to fight for their freedom, the Ukrainian armed forces will push forward. As he becomes more desperate, Putin may rattle his nuclear sabre, with the intention of either bringing Ukraine to the table – where a peace favourable to Russia can be negotiated – or scaring free and open countries to press Ukraine into accepting Russian demands for fear of what the Kremlin might do if further advances are made.

We should not give in to such threats. The best way to avoid escalation is to provide the money and weapons to help Ukraine secure victory as quickly as possible.


Lord Risby, Conservative peer and co-chair of the APPG on Ukraine.

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