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Russia Signals Retreat from Kherson
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Russia Signals Retreat from Kherson

Retaking the city would be a major Ukrainian milestone as the brutal war slogs on.

Happy Friday! One hundred and four years ago today, in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, fighting in the Great War came to an end

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Election results—and concessions—continued to roll in on Thursday, though a handful of key races remain undecided. Some updates are included below:
  • Senate: Control of the Senate remains up in the air, but appears to be trending in the Democrats’ direction. In Nevada, the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt remains too close to call. Laxalt was leading by less than 1 percentage point as of 3 a.m. ET on Friday, with about 10 percent of the vote still to count. And in Arizona, the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican challenger Blake Masters has yet to be called by major network decision desks, but Kelly leads by nearly 6 percentage points with just over 80 percent of the ballots counted. Dave Wasserman, an elections analyst at the Cook Political Report, believes Kelly will squeak out the win.
  • House: Control of the House also remains up in the air, but Republicans appear likely to recapture the chamber. President Joe Biden conceded as much speaking with reporters last night. In Colorado, as of Friday morning, incumbent GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert has recaptured a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Adam Frisch in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. And in Montana, Ryan Zinke, former Trump administration interior secretary, narrowly defeated Democrat Monica Tranel in the state’s 1st Congressional District.
  • Governors: In Arizona, the race between Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake remains too close to call. In Oregon, Democrat Tina Kotek successfully held off a strong challenge from Republican Christine Drazan, leading her by approximately 4 percentage points as of 3 a.m. ET.
  • A federal judge issued a ruling Thursday night striking down the Biden administration’s $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan, which would have “canceled” up to $10,000 in federal student loans for Americans earning less than $125,000 per year and up to $20,000 for Americans under that income threshold who received need-based Pell grants for low-income undergraduate students. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit had already temporarily put the plan on hold in a separate case, but U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman on Thursday held that the program was “an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power and must be vacated.” The Biden administration has already appealed Pittman’s ruling. 
  • The Pentagon announced a new $400 million security assistance package for Ukraine on Thursday, tapping into previously approved congressional aid to send Ukraine four Avenger air defense systems, missiles for HAWK air defense systems, additional HIMARS ammunition, artillery and mortar rounds, 100 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs), 400 grenade launchers, cold weather protective gear, and more. The United States has now sent Ukraine approximately $18.6 billion in military aid since Russia’s invasion in late February.
  • Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh—a leader in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—claimed Thursday that Iran had successfully built a hypersonic missile capable of evading air-defense systems around the world, though he did not provide evidence for the assertion and there have been no public reports of a such a weapon being tested.
  • President Joe Biden announced on Thursday his intent to nominate Danny Werfel—a partner at Boston Consulting Group—to serve as the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. Werfel briefly ran the agency on an acting basis in 2013 and served as Office of Management and Budget controller in the George W. Bush administration. 
  • Nicole made landfall on Florida’s east coast as a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday, the latest in the calendar year that a hurricane has hit that area on record. It has since weakened to a tropical storm, dumping heavy rain and leaving more than 50,000 Floridian households without power as of Friday morning.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday she will extend proxy voting in the House through Christmas Day, allowing representatives to continue voting remotely until days before the new Congress is sworn in.
  • The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—rose by 7,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 225,000 last week. The measure is up from earlier this year, but it remains near historic lows, signaling the labor market—though cooling—continues to be tight.
  • The average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States increased about 10 percent over the past two weeks according to CDC data, while the average number of daily deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 9 percent. About 21,300 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, up from approximately 21,100 two weeks ago.

Is Kherson’s ‘Forever’ Occupation Ending?

Ukraine’s military mobility continues toward Kherson front in Ukraine on November 9, 2022. (Photo by Metin Aktas /Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

About six weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, including Kherson, would be part of Russia “forever.” But maybe “forever” means different things in different places. For the city of Kherson, it’s turning out to mean “a couple of months, tops.”

At a televised meeting of top defense officials on Wednesday, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s top invasion commander, said Russian troop positions on the west bank of the Dnipro River had become untenable. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the writing on the wall official, ordering a Russian withdrawal. “I agree with your conclusions and proposals,” Shoigu said, per a translation. “For us, the life and health of Russian servicemen is always a priority.”’ 

Ukrainian officials worry the announcement is a feint, but they’ve also seen a withdrawal coming. A Ukrainian counteroffensive has been driving toward the city in recent weeks, pummeling vulnerable Russian supply lines to cut off Russian occupiers in the area. A key shipping hub on the Dnipro River’s west bank in southern Ukraine, Kherson is the only regional capital Russia has captured since its invasion began more than eight months ago, and its loss will be a blow to morale.

“Russian troops are demoralized, under-armed, starving, running out of everything—all the supplies they need to be able to survive on the west side of the river,” Bryan Clark, director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute, told The Dispatch. “So they are desperate to get back across the river.”

While some Russian military bloggers defended the announced withdrawal, hard-liners called it out as yet another in a humiliating string of retreats. “A series of military failures will accumulate much more serious internal discontent than sanctions,” Russian analyst Boris Rozhin wrote, per a translation. Former Putin adviser Sergei Markov called the Kherson withdrawal Russia’s biggest defeat since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Shoigu’s televised announcement seemed designed to convince the Russian public that everything is under control, but the defense minister’s claim about valuing Russian troops’ lives belied the reality on the ground. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that “well over” 100,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the invasion. Ukrainian forces, he estimated, have suffered similar losses.

Though cautious, United States officials say they see some signs that Russian troops are indeed preparing to pull back from Kherson. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Ukrainians had recaptured 41 settlements in the region.

The Russians aren’t simply laying down their weapons and sauntering off, though. “In retreating, Russian forces have destroyed multiple bridges and likely laid mines to slow and delay advancing Ukrainian forces,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday. Russians are also reportedly leaving behind rearguards in several population centers—some apparently wearing civilian clothes, possibly to stage ambushes—and the withdrawal could take days or weeks.

“There is a lot of joy in the media space today, and it is clear why,” Zelensky said Wednesday. “[But] when you are fighting, you must understand that every step is always resistance from the enemy, it is always the loss of the lives of our heroes.”

Ukrainians still worry about Kherson’s condition when the fighting ends—and how much retaking it will cost. Even if Russian forces do fully withdraw and forgo brutal block-by-block fighting, they’re likely to leave booby traps and landmines. Russia’s military “wants to turn Kherson into a ‘city of death,’” Mykhailo Podolyak—an adviser to Zelensky—wrote Thursday. “[Russia’s] military mines everything they can: apartments, sewers. Artillery on the left bank plans to turn the city into ruins. This is what ‘Russian world’ looks like: came, robbed, celebrated, killed ‘witnesses,’ left ruins and left.”

As this map from the New York Times shows, retaking the city of Kherson is one thing; recapturing the remaining 60 percent of the Kherson oblast would be something else entirely.

Russian troops have been preparing to fall back, moving command posts across the river and digging in. Once on the other side of the Dnipro, they’ll no longer need to ferry supplies across the river, opening themselves up to Ukrainian artillery strikes. Instead, Ukrainian troops would themselves be vulnerable during any river crossings.

Meanwhile, Russian forces would benefit from thick layers of defensive lines—supplied by logistics hubs safely beyond the range of weapons the West has provided Ukraine. The Pentagon on Thursday announced the drawdown of another $400 million military aid package that will include weapons intended to block attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, but the Biden administration has been reluctant to provide weapons Ukraine could use to strike Russian land, for fear of escalating the war even further.

Combined with the arrival of winter, the White House hopes a stalemate in this part of Ukraine’s offensives could motivate both sides to agree to at least a temporary ceasefire. “They’re going to both lick their wounds, decide what they’re going to do over the winter and decide whether or not they’re going to compromise,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. A string of administration officials have mentioned negotiations in recent days—but have also insisted the administration isn’t pressuring Ukraine to come to the table.

For now, Ukraine is focused on quickly liberating as much of its territory as possible. The U.S. estimates some 40,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in the war, and millions more have been displaced. In Kherson’s neighboring Mykolaiv oblast, Ukrainians are hoping the counteroffensive’s continued success will give them relief from missile attacks that have bludgeoned the city, destroying its water systems and other essentials. “We are preparing to reconnect electricity, heat, humanitarian aid kits, medicines, etc,” Mykolaiv regional head Vitaly Kim wrote on Telegram Thursday. “Lots of good news for today.”

Worth Your Time

  • Between Facebook’s collapse and Twitter’s Elon Musk-shaped implosion, it feels like the age of social media is ending—and it’s for the best, Ian Bogost notes in The Atlantic. “Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature. The practice evolved via a weird mutation, one so subtle that it was difficult to spot happening in the moment,” he writes. “Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers. A global broadcast network where anyone can say anything to anyone else as often as possible, and where such people have come to think they deserve such a capacity, or even that withholding it amounts to censorship or suppression—that’s just a terrible idea from the outset. And it’s a terrible idea that is entirely and completely bound up with the concept of social media itself: systems erected and used exclusively to deliver an endless stream of content. But now, perhaps, it can also end. The possible downfall of Facebook and Twitter (and others) is an opportunity—not to shift to some equivalent platform, but to embrace their ruination, something previously unthinkable.”
  • David Shor—founder of Blue Rose Research, a Democratic data firm—is one of the sharpest political analysts out there. He spoke to New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz yesterday, sharing some of his key takeaways from this week’s election. “The No. 1 most salient fact about this election is that Republican turnout was very strong relative to Democratic turnout,” he said. “Back of the envelope, it looks like the electorate was about 2 percent more Republican than it was in 2020. Republicans literally outnumbered Democrats, according to the AP’s VoteCast. And yet Democrats still won. And they won for a few reasons. First, Democrats won independent voters, which may be the first time that a party that controlled the presidency has won independents in a midterm since 2002. Second, they got a lot of self-identified Republicans to vote for them. And third, they did those things especially well in close races. The party’s overall share of the national vote is actually going to look fairly bad. It looks like we got roughly 48 percent of the vote. But that’s because Democratic incumbents in safe seats did much worse than those in close races.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Economic figures on both the right and left should stop pushing policies that prioritize production and jobs over consumption, Scott argues in this week’s Capitolism (🔒). “Of course, you typically need a job to consume stuff and working can provide certain non-monetary benefits,” he writes. “But the last year-plus should hopefully remind us that, economically at least, production and employment remain a means to an end—not, as producerists would have us believe, the end itself.”
  • After Tuesday’s midterms, Klon devotes this week’s edition of The Current (🔒) to celebrating the United States’ “amazing” collection of electoral systems. “We should all want free, fair, and accurate elections. And here’s the good news: We have them,” he writes. “Every one of us should thank God for the freedom and privilege of living in a nation where our government, as frustrating and silly as it can be, is still a government ‘of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.’”
  • GOP-aligned media is starting to tiptoe away from Donald Trump after this week’s disappointing election results, but their mettle will be tested if and when the former president is indicted. “Do we think The Daily Wire, one of the most successful platforms in populist conservative media, will keep up the warnings about nominating erratic, possibly criminal candidates if the huge Daily Wire audience decides that it must support an indicted Trump again for the sake of spiting the libs?” Nick asks in yesterday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒). “How many readers is DW prepared to lose to Gateway Pundit or whoever in the name of pressing its case for Ron DeSantis?”
  • On today’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Jonah, and David break down—what else—the midterms. Why were the vibes so off? Is Trump 2024 doomed before it even gets off the ground? Will Democrats and Republicans learn the right lessons from the messages voters sent? And what should we expect to see in Georgia next month?
  • On the site today, Audrey reports on the problem Democrats have when two of their most well-known figures—Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams—soak up all sorts of celebrity but can’t win elections.

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.