The U.S. Institute for the Study of War assessed that Russia might restart its southern offensive.
Russia made significant early gains in the South, taking Kherson and threatening Mykolaiv early in the war. As Ukrainian forces began to rally, the Russian offensive halted and repelled the invaders. Constant Ukrainian attacks whittled away the overextended Russian frontlines, eventually ending the battle of Mykolaiv. Fighting in Kherson’s outskirts after its capture by Russian forces has been reported multiple times by Ukrainian media; however, Kherson has remained firmly in Russian hands so far. Russian propagandists, including the famed Crimean prosecutor who assisted in Crimea’s 2014 annexation, have visited the city to attempt to distribute humanitarian supplies to garner support. Kherson’s populace had refused Russian supplies and protested referendum attempts despite this. Though previously, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense believed that a sham referendum could be held in Kherson to join the Russian Federation, recent reports indicate that Kherson’s occupation authorities may forgo a referendum to directly submit an appeal for annexation.
Of course, with a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive on the horizon, any decisions by Moscow regarding Kherson could be transient. It would be a serious blunder for Russia to annex Kherson into the Russian Federation, only for it to be recaptured by Ukrainian forces. So far, Russia has proven incapable of garnering local support for its rule. When a Ukrainian counteroffensive begins, Russia will likely be unable to sustain Kherson without neglecting defenses in the Donbas.
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