Key points to remember
- Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson City triggers an ideological rift between pro-war figures and Russian President Vladimir Putin, eroding confidence in Putin’s commitment and ability to deliver on his war promises.
- Russian authorities are increasingly normalizing the public and likely illegal deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
- Russian military leaders are trying and failing to integrate ad hoc military formations into a more cohesive fighting force in Ukraine.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued their counter-offensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
- Ukrainian forces continued to liberate settlements on the right (west) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces continued their offensive operations towards Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Vuhledar.
- Russian officials may be trying to avoid providing military personnel with promised payments.
- Russian forces and occupation officials continue to endanger residents and subject them to coercive measures.
Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson City triggers an ideological rift between pro-war figures and Russian President Vladimir Putin, eroding confidence in Putin’s commitment and ability to deliver on his war promises. A pro-war Russian ideologue, Alexander Dugin, openly criticized Putin – whom he called the autocrat – for failing to champion Russian ideology when he abandoned the city of Kherson on November 12. Dugin said this Russian ideology defines Russia’s responsibility to defend “Russian cities” such as Kherson, Belgorod, Kursk, Donetsk and Simferopol. Dugin noted that an autocrat has the responsibility to save his nation single-handedly or face the fate of the “Rain King”, a reference to Sir James Frazer. The golden branch in which a king was killed because he was unable to make it rain in the midst of a drought. Dugin also downplayed the role of Putin’s advisers in the failure to protect the Russian world and noted that the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Army General Sergey Surovikin was not responsible for the political decision to stand. withdraw from the city of Kherson. Dugin noted that the autocrat cannot fix this deviation from ideology simply with public appearances, noting that “the authorities in Russia cannot give up anything else” and that “the limit has been reached”. He also accused the presidential administration of advocating a “false” ideology due to its fear of engaging with the “Russian idea”. Dugin also made reference to the use of tactical nuclear weapons, which he vaguely stated was “the end” and went on to note that late Russian changes to the military campaign generated no effect to change the course of the war. He also suggested, however, that Russia should commit to the Russian idea rather than pursuing the “dumb” use of nuclear weapons.
Putin is finding it harder to appease parts of the highly ideological pro-war constituency due to his army’s inability to achieve its maximalist goals of overthrowing the Ukrainian government and taking over all of Ukraine, such as the ISW has previously reviewed it. Putin’s nationalist-leaning propagandists such as Vladimir Solovyov are increasingly demanding that the Kremlin and the higher military command fully commit to their goals in Ukraine, and Solovyov has even called for full mobilization and the sacking of officials incompetent after the Russian surrender of the city of Kherson. Some milbloggers have previously criticized Putin for his failure to respond to the October 9 attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge, while others have noted that Putin has failed to uphold the ideology of Russian superiority since 2014. . Direct criticism of Putin within the pro-war community is almost unprecedented, and Dugin’s highly publicized and haphazard attack on Putin may signal a shift among Russian nationalist ideologues. Putin must retain the support of this community and likely ordered some of his propagandists to suppress any criticism of the Russian withdrawal from Kherson City, as many state television news programs omitted or downplayed the consequences of the withdrawal. Ever-growing doubts among hardline Russian nationalists about Putin’s commitment to Russian ideology are reducing Putin’s appeal to the nationalist community, while the mobilization and high casualty toll will likely continue to upset members of the Russian company.
Channels affiliated with Wagner are also turning to the Kremlin following the loss of Kherson Oblast, which could further increase the influence of the siloviki faction. Some milbloggers have suggested that the Kremlin betrayed the city of Kherson by “selling out”, while others noted that the Kremlin had consistently ceded its territories without asking the Russian people. Other milbloggers have further questioned the legitimacy of the claimed 87% support rating for Russian annexation of Kherson Oblast. Wagner Group financier Yevheny Prigozhin and some milbloggers have previously discussed the possibility of “Russian civil society” mobilizing to defend Russia. Growing criticism of the decision to withdraw from western Kherson contrasts with the general support for the decision among the milblogging community before today.
Russian authorities are increasingly normalizing the public and likely illegal deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova publicized the illegal abduction of 52 medically fragile Ukrainian children from Kherson Oblast to an unspecified “safe” area in Russia on November 12, possibly as part of a medical relocation program that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik confirmed started on November 5. Senior Kremlin officials, including Lvova-Belova and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, have publicly acknowledged and welcomed the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russian families or Russian institutions in recent weeks. Officials of the Russian occupation of Zaporizhia Oblast have made public statements in recent weeks about plans to forcibly relocate more than 40,000 children from Kherson Oblast to Russia and acknowledged on November 12 that their child care systems in Ukraine were inadequate. Russian and Ukrainian sources have previously reported that Russian and occupation officials deported Ukrainian children to Russia for education, vacation and other programs in the past 10 days. These frequent and public acknowledgments stand in stark contrast to the first official Russian confirmation of such actions on August 23, when authorities in Krasnodar Krai suppressed an announcement about the arrival of 300 adoptable Ukrainian children from Mariupol and denied ever issuing the statement. As the ISW has noted and will continue to do, the forcible deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia represents a possible violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Russian military leaders are trying and largely failing to integrate combat forces from many different organizations and many different types and levels of skills and equipment into a more cohesive fighting force in Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian officials had stopped the distribution of documents from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), including documents concerning the participation of DNR forces and of the NRL in combat, on November 11. Russian authorities also ordered commanders of the Southern Military District to centralize payments to DNR and LNR fighters through Russian financial institutions and offered DNR and LNR soldiers the option of continuing their service as contractual members under Russian law. These efforts will likely increase friction between Russian officials and NRL and DNR officials due to the exclusion of DNR and NRL officials from the process. Members of the DNR and NRL services reportedly feel pressured to accept Russian contracts and have expressed concern that refusing new Russian contracts will lead to the cancellation of their documents and the termination of DNR/LNR benefits. The ISW has previously reported a bureaucratic dispute between the DNR, LNR and Russian authorities over administrative structures in the occupied areas.
The lack of structure inherent in the combination of DNR forces, LNR forces, Russian contracted military, Russian regional volunteer military, Russian mobilized military and Wagner Group Private Military Company (PMC) forces creates an environment that promotes intra-force conflicts. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 12 that the strained relations between the mobilized soldiers and the Chechen volunteer soldiers sparked a brawl in Makiivka which left three injured.
See the full report here.