Why Russia Could Be Ejected from Crimea: From November 13 to 16, 1920 the Government of South Russia evacuated over the sea from the Crimean Peninsula, which had been the last stronghold of the White movement on the Southern Front during the Russian Civil War. Nearly two decades later, Nazi Germany took the peninsula during the Crimean Campaign, which lasted from October 18, 1941, until July 4, 1942.
The attacking German and Romanian forces, as well as the defending Soviet troops, suffered heavy casualties as the Axis forces tried to advance through the Isthmus of Perekop that links the peninsula to the mainland. Upwards of 100,000 were killed or wounded on both sides in the fighting.
An even greater number was lost in the month-long Crimean offensive from April 8 to May 12, 1944, when the Soviet Red Army’s 4th Ukrainian Front engaged the German 17th Army of Army Group A. The battle ended with the German evacuation of the peninsula, though German and Romanian forces suffered considerable losses.
Site of Another Campaign
It now appears that Crimea could once again be the site of a major battle, as Ukraine has made it clear that it will seek to drive out Russia, which illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014. According to U.S. officials, the odds favor Kyiv – as history has shown, defending the peninsula is far from easy.
In September, U.S. General Ben Hodges, U.S. Army (Retired), former commander of the United States Army Europe, said he had “great confidence” that the Ukrainian Armed Forces could take control of Crimea by the middle of 2023.
“I hope that by the end of this year, Ukrainian forces will push Russian forces to the positions of February 23,” Hodges told LRT, “and that by the middle of next year, the Ukrainians will be in Crimea.”
It doesn’t appear Ukraine will, in fact, push the Russian forces out of the territory that the Kremlin took after it launched its unprovoked invasion in February.
However, Russia has reportedly lost more than 100,000 men and has seen some 2,000 tanks destroyed. In addition, Kyiv has become emboldened, launching drone strikes on the Russian Naval Base in Sevastopol and Kremlin air bases deep within Russia.
The peninsula may be fairly well fortified as well, but it could be easily cut off from the rest of the Russian Army.
Though the Russian Navy still largely has control of the Black Sea, and Crimea is connected to Russian territory by the Kerch Strait Bridge, it will be no easy task for the Kremlin to keep its forces in Crimea supplied.
It could be a difficult and slow-moving campaign, but as the Government of South Russia learned in 1920, and the Red Army found out in 1942, Crimea can only hold out so long.
The big challenge would be for Ukraine to get its forces into position, but the area known as Syvash has shallow lagoons, which can be crossed at low tide. It was through that area that the Nazis invaded in 1941 and from where the Soviets launched its attack in 1944.
Ukraine’s fleet of small coastal patrol boats could quickly establish beachheads, while the U.S.-supplied HIMARS and other mobile weapons could allow Kyiv’s forces to push into the interior quickly crossing the three-mile-wide Isthmus of Perekop.
What is most important to consider is that for many Ukrainians, the recapture of Crimea is a goal toward ending the eight-year military conflict with Russia. Polls suggest a large majority of Ukrainians even consider it the only acceptable “victory” in the war. Though Russia continues to see the 2014 annexation as righting a “historical wrong” done to them at the end of the Cold War, Ukraine shows a greater resolve to win.
That lack of resolve was why the Government of South Russia fell in 1920 and could be why Russia will fail to hold Crimea in 2023.
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Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.