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Another Victory for Democracy

Ukraine is in a real battle for democracy. And it's winning.
Another Victory for Democracy

Democracy is having a great week! I admit I was legitimately concerned about the state of America's republic when I wrote the article below on Monday. I was making the argument that if the American people voted for the multiple election deniers who were running for office, they were literally putting their ability to vote in the future at risk. I wasn't sure if the American electorate fully realized the precarious position we were in as a nation.

America’s Last Election
This may be the final election in which our votes matter.

Needless to say, I  am more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Although many pundits had criticized Democrats for saying it, democracy was indeed "on the ballot" and voters overwhelmingly chose to keep it. As case in point, every secretary of state (those officials who certify state elections) as well as every governor (those officials who confirm those certifications) who ran as an election denier in a swing state has lost his or her election. Every single one. Extraordinary.

Note: As of this writing, the governor race in Arizona between former secretary of state Katie Hobbs and election denier Kari Lake is still too close to call, so the final result will either be a clean sweep of defeats for election skeptics or the exception to the rule.

Sure, election denialism has been an undercurrent of Republican politics since Donald Trump started questioning the legitimacy before the 2020 presidential election and has remained a powerful force in the party to appease the base. And hundreds of election skeptics have been elected to the House and Senate. But where people's votes about the farse of election fraud really mattered – in the states in which our elections are decided – the voters were resounding in their repudiation.

It's a stunning victory for democracy and a reminder that January 6th, and all that preceded and followed it, was not acceptable. I'm sure some House members, elected in safe Republican districts, may still beat that drum moving forward, but from the Senate chamber in Washington to statehouses across the country, the lie that our elections are not free and fair has largely been silenced.

The world had certainly questioned whether America's republic could survive the turmoil of the last two years, and the answer from its citizens was a definitive yes.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, somewhat overshadowed by our own metaphorical battle for democracy was a real battle for democracy. And once again, democracy is winning. Ukraine's liberation of the city of Kherson from Russian forces may be a turning point in their nation's war against Russia's aggression.

Kherson's Liberation

Ukrainian soldiers liberated the city of Kherson, sweeping into the strategic southern city and receiving a hero’s welcome from a population that had lived through nearly nine months of Russian occupation.

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times describing the situation when Ukrainian soldiers entered the city.

Women hugged them, men shook their hands and children looked on admiringly.

"We waited for you! We love you!" people in a crowd in Kherson’s central square yelled as a half-dozen Ukrainian soldiers arrived in a dusty pickup truck on Saturday, piling out to mingle with the crowd.

"Good job! Good job!" a woman yelled. "Come here, let me hug you."

A day after Kyiv’s forces began reclaiming the city, the people gathering on the city’s streets told visiting New York Times journalists that their joy was mixed with a deep sense of unease about possible Russian retaliatory strikes, which had followed earlier Ukrainian successes in the war.

Col. Roman Kostenko, a member of Parliament serving in the Ukrainian military, said the risk of a retaliatory bombardment of Kherson was high. Although Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Friday that all of its forces had withdrawn from the city, the Ukrainian military’s intelligence agency said on Saturday that there were still soldiers in fixed defensive positions, and that it was unclear whether they would fight, flee or surrender.

Despite the palpable trepidation about what would happen next — and amid hardships in a city mostly without heat, water and medicines — there was obvious pride in what Ukraine’s military had accomplished in forcing the Russian retreat. The victory, said Roman Lozinsky, a member of Parliament serving in the Ukrainian navy, "shows the whole world that Ukraine can do it."

‘Let me hug you’: Ukrainian soldiers receive a hero’s welcome in Kherson. (New York Times)

Ukrainian soldiers being welcomed by residents of Kherson, Ukraine, on Saturday after Russian forces retreated. Credit...Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

The Counteroffensive

According to BBC News, the loss of Kherson is on a par with Russia's humiliating withdrawal from its positions outside the capital Kyiv earlier in the year, and caps a stunning three-month change of fortunes for the Ukrainians.

Nothing has gone Russia's way for months. They've lost huge swathes of territory in the east, the flagship of their Black Sea fleet has been sunk and a crucial bridge from Russia to occupied Crimea is still out of action. Now Russian forces have been forced to abandon the only provincial capital they had managed to capture since February's full invasion. Just like the failed capture of Kyiv, holding on to Kherson simply became untenable.

This is the culmination of a patient, carefully-staged sequence of military moves, which began in July when Ukrainian forces, using newly-acquired American HIMARS rocket systems, attacked key bridges linking Russian forces in and around Kherson with their supply lines to the east and south. Having isolated Russian forces, and convinced Moscow that Kherson was about to be attacked, Kyiv then launched its lightning offensive far to the north-east, around Kharkiv, taking Moscow completely by surprise.

But Kherson was always the big prize.

Kherson biggest Russian loss since withdrawal from outside Kyiv (BBC News)

Another Russian Defeat

Relinquishing the city of Kyiv shattered the illusion of control Putin tried to create by staging referendums and illegally declaring Kherson and three other regions to be annexed and absorbed into Russia, writes the Washington Post.

Although Russian forces still control the broader Kherson region, which forms part of Putin’s coveted "land bridge" from mainland Russia to illegally annexed Crimea, forfeiting the capital city is a stunning blow after repeated, blustery declarations by pro-Kremlin figures that Russia would stay in Kherson "forever".

Moscow’s hardline pro-war faction, including nationalist military bloggers, called the surrender of the city a "betrayal" and a "black day." The retreat from Kherson city is the latest in a string of military collapses for Putin.

Loss of Kherson city shatters Putin’s war goals in Ukraine (Washington Post)

After months of fighting, Russian forces began retreating from the Ukrainian city of Kherson on Nov. 12, in what many see as another setback for Vladimir Putin. (Video: The Washington Post)

Looking Ahead

Where the war goes from here is largely up to President Putin, who is facing a humiliating defeat in Ukraine while also dealing with a mass exodus of young men after a mobilization call and escalating protests in the streets. Russian propaganda is largely blaming disloyal and incompetent generals for its defeats on the battlefield, but even the carefully orchestrated façade around Putin is starting to come down. After this latest series of setbacks, the authoritarian regime is simply running out of options.

What was once predicted to be a relatively short conflict because of Russia's sheer number of troops and equipment has morphed into remarkable test of battle skills. A NATO-trained 21st century military is facing off against a rigid, unprofessional army relying on 20th century tactics and incapable of adapting to conditions on the ground. Does Putin now employ the use of tactical nuclear weapons to make strategic advances on the field or resort to indiscriminately shelling Ukraine's cities into submission?

Russia's next move is anyone's guess, but the loss of Kherson will register as another huge blow in a war that is already being lost. The question now: Does Putin escalate or begin to search for a way out of the quagmire? Regardless, Ukraine has proven time and time again that it is more than a worthy champion of democracy.

And we should all take notice.

Read more about Ukraine's recent success

Special Report: Ukraine’s Supremacy Over Russia
How a twenty-first century military is winning its war against a twentieth century foe.

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