On Monday, the National Intelligence Council made public a recently declassified report on foreign interference in the 2022 midterm elections. That report remains heavily redacted, obscuring the details of actions taken by Russia, China, and Iran in efforts to influence U.S. voters. However, tucked down on page 7 of that report between blocks of blacked-out information is a snippet that, if accurate, shows an astounding connection between Russia’s actions on the ground in Ukraine and its efforts to shape elections in the United States.
Throughout the first half of 2022, Ukraine struggled to make progress against Russian forces holding onto areas of Kherson on the western side of the Dnipro River. Repeated Ukrainian advances toward Vysokopillya and Snihurivka failed to dislodge Russians positioned behind defenses of what were seen as “fortress towns.” Efforts to sweep around Russian positions in the south were repeatedly rolled back. Weeks were spent with Ukraine fighting within a triangle of tiny villages near the town of Davydiv Brid.
Then Ukraine began pounding the bridges. The Antonivskyi Bridge east of Kherson was hit by repeated volleys of rockets, reportedly from recently arrived HIMARS systems provided by the United States. Fifty kilometers north, more rockets fell on the Kakhovka Bridge that stretched across the river-spanning dam. Just like that, Russian forces on the right bank of the Dnipro became cut off. By the fall, with Russia running low on supplies, equipment, and men, Ukraine began smashing through areas that had previously seemed impregnable.
That’s when Russia moved to protect what it viewed as most vital. Not its men or machines on the ground in Kherson, but the vote in America.
Here’s the critical sentence from that declassified report. “[redacted] 2022, Russian military officials proposed delaying the Russian withdrawal from Kherson until after the midterms to avoid giving a named US political party a perceived win before the election.”
The first week of October 2022 was chock-full of incredible events. In the east, Ukrainian forces finally entered the city of Lyman, with Russian vehicles being destroyed along the long road east as they attempted to flee. Over the next three days, Russia appeared to be retreating on every front. That included Kherson, where Ukrainian forces were able to stroll from village to village, accompanied by medical staff, bringing relief to those liberated from Russian occupation.
Long-occupied positions collapsed as Ukraine drove the last groups of Russians from one crossroads to the next. By mid-month, there were reports that the city of Kherson was being evacuated, But then came an interlude. Russian positions in Kherson were reported as undermanned, underequipped, and undersupplied, but Russia stopped moving back and halted their evacuation. A report from U.K. intelligence on Oct. 28 even showed that Russia was using barges to bring in more troops to bolster their failing positions. Losses were so great that some companies that should have held 100 men were reportedly down to fewer than 10. There were reports that forces were being prepared to become “great martyrs” to the Russian cause.
In the first days of November, the news was the same. Despite being pushed back by kilometers, Russia was stubbornly holding positions that were less well-prepared than the ones it had already abandoned. Russia even staged a series of small counterattacks, recapturing some villages which Ukraine had not effectively garrisoned. Ukraine continued to hit Russian barges attempting to cross the river, and there were signs that Ukraine was on the move in the area, but Russia seemed unwilling to quit the field, even though its position was hopeless.
Finally, on Nov. 8, everything seemed to happen at once. Reports of Russia’s retreat seemed to be coming in by the minute. They were gone from one position, fleeing from another, and often leaving equipment behind in their haste to depart. What happened on that day that finally delivered the final straw to this long-suffering camel? Nov. 8 was Election Day in the United States.
Not only did Russian forces go tumbling back from their positions on Nov. 8, but one day later, Russia officially announced that it was withdrawing from Kherson city and the area west of the Dnipro River. At the time, Daily Kos was focused on reports of Ukrainian troops breaking through Russian positions. The day that came next may be the most glorious of the ugly, murderous, illegal invasion … so far.
But here’s something to ponder. On Oct. 19, 2022, estimated losses for Russia stood at 66,280 military personnel. By the time Russia announced its withdrawal from Kherson on Nov. 9, the number had grown to 78,690.
It’s not clear how many of those 12,410 men were lost in Kherson over that period. Or how much equipment they left behind. But some of those men died defending territory that Russia already knew it was going to abandon. They died defending a position that was seemingly being held for no reason other than hopes that it would boost Republican chances in American elections.
You can bet that none of those men knew this. But Putin and his generals certainly did.
As the report notes, this whole sequence of events has been hinted at before, including on Russian state media. But seeing it down in black and white is just another reminder that Russians don’t give a tinker’s damn about the lives of their men. Whether it’s a meter of ground at Avdiivka or a chance of a vote somewhere in Iowa, the Russian government is always ready to surrender Russian lives.
The transformation of vibrant, growing cities like Severodonetsk, Mariupol, and Bakhmut is not just tragic but incomprehensible. Two years ago, in this same place, children looked forward to their presents on Christmas. Families gathered. Cookies and cakes were exchanged. Choirs raised their voices in churches. Students fretted through their last day of classes before the break.
This is the Russian world …
Sacrifice and decency. It’s hard to believe that combination can be beaten.