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Putin’s Worst Nightmare: Is Ukraine Preparing to Retake Crimea

T-90 Tank
T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Could Ukraine actually retake Crimea? – The prospect of Ukraine not only winning the war against Russia, but going on an offensive against the invading country may sound far-fetched. But with the Russians still unable to achieve their original goals, and amid a faltering military campaign in the east, Ukrainian troops are very much on the verge of victory.

And invading Russian territory could be on the cards.

Comments from Ukraine’s president indicate that it could happen, and he can thank Western military assistance for a chance to reclaim territory lost over the last decade.

Russia Invasion Is Flagging

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence said on Sunday that the Russian offensive in Donbas has “lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule.” In an intelligence briefing shared online, British defense officials said that despite small-scale advances in some parts of eastern Ukraine, Russia has “failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month” while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

According to the same intelligence update, Russia has likely lost around one-third of its ground combat force that was committed to Ukraine back in February.

Also over the weekend, reports revealed how Russian troops were withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-biggest city. According to the Associated Press, Russian troops who were previously focused on bombarding the city of Kharkiv are now on the defensive and focusing on protecting supply lines.

The flagging Russian invasion not only means that Ukraine is on the verge of pushing Russian forces back across the border but could also pave the way for a Ukrainian “invasion” of what Russia considered its territory – namely, the retaking of Crimea.

Zelenskyy’s Own Words Indicate Coming Crimea Battle

Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO council summit earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indicated that his military’s aim is not just to stop Russia’s advances but to reclaim territory, too.

Zelenskyy said that Ukrainian forces would “not retreat” and that he expects to win the war. He explained that his three ambitions in the war are to stop Russian troops from advancing, to reclaim territory, and then to restore Ukraine’s territory through diplomacy.

It’s not the first time he’s promised to retake Crimea, either.

In August last year during a speech at the Crimean Platform summit in Kyiv, President Zelenskyy pledged to retake the Crimean peninsula from Russia after it was annexed in 2014.

“I will personally do everything possible to return Crimea so that it becomes part of Europe together with Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said at the time, adding that Kyiv required “effective support at the international level.”

At the time, Zelenskyy didn’t have that support. Beyond limited sanctions, NATO had largely accepted that the Crimean peninsula was now controlled by Russia.

With a struggling Russian invasion and billions of dollars invested in Ukraine this year alone, however, Zelenskyy now has the support he needs to take steps to reclaim Crimea.

But will he do it? Could Ukriane really try to take back Crimea? Stay tuned.

Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.

Written By

Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive's Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 20, 2022 at 9:24 am

    Ukraine can take back all its territory if it has enough well supplied missilemen, and plenty of anti-ship missiles.

    They will have to attack the Russian supply lines, and avoid using the same obsolete armored weapons the Russians are being slaughtered in.

  2. Armchair Ukrainian

    May 20, 2022 at 11:29 am

    As usual you ask a very timely question, something everyone should be considering. Among the issues Zelenskyy must consider is whether retaking territory lost to Russia in 2014 will start to fracture his support, with differences arising among nations supporting Ukraine or at a minimum within some supporting countries, reducing enthusiasm in those countries.

    Although Ukraine considered the issue open after 2014, much of the west was and may still be willing to accept the annexation of both regions. No doubt blooding the Russians, however appropriate that may feel to anyone committed to Ukraine’s retaking Crimea, the greater the Russian resentment would be after the war. Russia would have a new goal as it re-built its military.

    Of course, if Zelenksyy defines success as re-taking territory, and he thinks it’s worth that price to retake territory, now is the time. More importantly, however, if he wants Putin to be serious at the negotiation table, then increasing the threat that Ukraine will re-take territory (perhaps even threatening the Tinistri occupation) is undoubtedly the best way to do it. So, at least strategically, retaking territory should be his apparent goal, with military actions fully integrated with diplomatic strategy.

    Whether Zelenskyy ultimately follows through on re-taking land is a decision that can wait. For now he should prepare to do so and continue to pursue settlement.

    • The Legacy

      May 25, 2022 at 9:01 pm

      Unfortunately, taking land is a decision that trufully *can’t* wait; he needs to retake both the Donbass AND Crimea. Here’s why:

      Crimea: This was the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and their *only* deep sea port in their entire naval structure; when they lost it to Ukraine’s independence in the 90’s many of their largest ships (such as the Admiral Kuznetsov) suddenly lacked the means to drydock and to be able to park without running their engines 24/7. Sure, the Russians could have built another base, but as they hadn’t, Crimea is a VERY key military base for the Russians. Capturing it back would not only make it significantly harder for the Russians to invade in the future, it would also take away a key naval base that they had been (re)using since 2014. It would also likely boost Turkish-Ukrainian relations as Turkey is no friend of Russia, as the Russians have attempted to take Turkey multiple times over the past centuries.

      Donbass: I think this war started over the recent discovery of vast natural resources in Ukraine; namely Natural Gas. If Ukraine can harvest that, not only will that fuel their economic future post-war, it will allow Europe to completely isolate Russia economically without a devastating financial impact.

      So, yes, it is a decision that *can’t* wait. They must act as soon as their logistical situation allows. Of course this could cause Russia to consider this an “existential crisis” and prepare their nuclear forces, but Ukraine will likely get a guarantee from the West of a retaliatory strike on their behalf (as any fallout WILL hit NATO countries, and immediately qualify a retaliatory strike).

  3. Him

    May 20, 2022 at 11:31 am

    Ukraine’s stars performers:

    – portable anti-aircraft weapons, Stinger
    – portable anti-tank weapons, e.g. Javelin, NLAW
    – drones, large and small
    – anti-ship missiles

    Small nations, if they stock up on these, could get good bang-for-buck.

  4. Stefan Stackhouse

    May 20, 2022 at 9:46 pm

    Since the Russians consider Crimea to be an integral part of their territory, an invasion – especially one that appeared to have a good chance of success – might very well be considered by Putin and his circle to be an “existential threat” which would trigger the use of nuclear weapons. I understand that the Ukrainians want to liberate what they consider to be their rightful territory – but at what risk, and what cost?

  5. speedster

    June 26, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    Not likely as long as western weapons are drip fed into ukraine.

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