One week after the Russian announcement of its withdrawal from the right bank of the Dnieper River and its swift conclusion just 48 hours later, nothing has changed on the southern front of the Ukrainian war; there have been no substantial changes on the Donbass front either, and while the only thing that seems to be moving are Russian missiles directed at the Ukrainian energy infrastructure – like the massive bombardment last Tuesday – the whole world is wondering about the next phase of the conflict. .

Of course, the interests of the Russian forces – which have taken a defensive position in the south – and the Ukrainian ones are different when it comes to defining the main scenario of the upcoming battles.

The Russian withdrawal from part of the Kherson region was not a lightning operation, nor was it hasty and far from chaotic. It began in the month of October, in an orderly fashion. Military and civilians were evacuated to the other side of the river along with all possible heavy material. On the way, Russian troops laid a trail of mines and, in the final phase of the Dnieper crossing, shelled Ukrainian units that washed ashore in the sector of the disputed New Kakhovka dam. At the same time, on the left bank of the river, the Russians established three lines of defense, perhaps with precarious elements in some cases, such as that of some reservists who had to endure attacks by Ukrainian drones armed only with rifles, as they denounced.

With the wide river as a border, no one is left in a very good position. For the Ukrainians, trying to cross to the other side to break through to the Crimea would be an operation beyond the description of heroic. As for the Russians, they remain within the range of the Ukrainian missile artillery.

Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, seems to be the big target for the Ukrainians. In that sense, retired General Ben Hodges, who was head of US forces in Europe, says whenever he is asked – and often – that the peninsula will be reconquered next summer.

In that effort, naval troops are believed to have recently probed the small Kinburn peninsula at the mouth of the Dnieper and bombarded it as well. It is a sector apparently unprotected by Russian troops. But these actions can respond to a distraction maneuver, or to pure exploration.

For the Ukrainian forces, the logical move, long contemplated by military observers and analysts, will now have to be to try to push south through the Zaporizhia region, past the bend of the Dnieper, towards the sea. That would mean disengaging Russian forces from the Donbass and those that still hold 70% of the Kherson region, which would open the way to Crimea. The M-14 highway runs through this territory, linking the liberated city of Kherson and the occupied city of Mariupol, with the also occupied city of Melitópol halfway. A railway line runs to the north of this road. Those supply lines for Russian forces are already within range of the US Himars missile batteries manned by the Ukrainians. And if the degradation of the supply of the Russian contingent on the right bank of the Dnieper has been essential to force its withdrawal, now it will be too.

While one of the great surprises of this war was taking place in Kherson, the third largest Russian withdrawal after those in the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions, in the Donbass region the battles have continued with an intensity that the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelenski, He has not hesitated to describe it as “hell” and “carnage”.

On this extensive front, the Russians and the Ukrainians seem (information is always confusing) to have exchanged the odd location but without any substantial result. The biggest efforts are on the Ukrainian side in the Kharkiv and Luhansk regions and, on the Russian side, towards the Bakhmut crossroads in Donetsk, which has been resisting it for months.

The fact that President Zelensky walked through Kherson last Monday, three days after the recapture of the city, has caused outrage on the Russian side, according to bloggers and commentators. It is very reasonable to think that Russia now needs a victory on the ground to make up for the humiliation, and the only place where it can try it seems to be the Donbass, since the hypothesis of a northern incursion, from Belarus, has been largely ruled out.

The problem for the Russians is to what extent they can reinforce themselves in the Donbass to prevent the Ukrainians from focusing on the south. The videos and messages from reservists and soldiers protesting their precarious training, the poor quality of the material they receive, the abandonment by their commanders are increasing, and the latest offensive in south Donetsk, in the Vuhledar and Pavlivka was a failure.

On the Ukrainian side, and leaving aside the ability of its troops to hold one front while advancing on the other (this only happened in September, in the spectacular advance of Kharkiv, since in the case of Kherson it was due to the previous Russian withdrawal), the most urgent need is for more air defense systems to avoid being saturated by another wave of Russian missiles like the one last Tuesday that compromised the energy and communications infrastructure. NATO, through its Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has recognized this.