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Perhaps Putin is sane after all

Neighbours in Arkhanhelske, a liberated town in Kherson province. Celestino Arce/NurPhoto/ Getty

Russia’s retreat from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson is a “humiliating defeat” for Vladimir Putin, says Max Boot in The Washington Post. Kherson was the only regional capital the Kremlin had captured in the invasion; without having it as a foothold, Russia cannot take the nearby cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa to “choke off Ukraine from the Black Sea, its major trade artery”. Positioned on the west bank of the mighty Dnipro River, Kherson also controls Crimea’s water supply via the North Crimean Canal. Kyiv will presumably shut off the water flow to the Russian-occupied peninsula, making it harder for Moscow’s forces to control.

But perhaps the “best news” about the retreat is that the order “clearly came from the top” – from Putin himself. In late September, the Russian leader had reportedly ruled out a retreat from Kherson under any circumstances. The fact that “military necessity” has changed his mind provides more evidence that “the Russian strongman is a rational actor”. Similarly, in recent weeks he has restored a deal to let Ukraine export grain and backed off from his nuclear threats. It’s a far cry from Hitler who, when his troops were being encircled during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, brought on military disaster by ruling out a withdrawal. Putin certainly miscalculates, and he’s reluctant to concede defeat. But he’s not about to “launch World War III if he doesn’t get his way”.

🤨🍄 Putin still knows how to keep people on edge, says Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic. At his annual foreign-policy conference last month, an attendee asked if he was in any hurry to use nukes. Putin said nothing. “The seconds ticked by.” Eventually, his questioner broke the silence: “You’ve stopped to think. That’s disconcerting.” To which Putin responded: “I did it on purpose to make you worry a little.”