Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

The Embassy

Ukraine Could Recapture Crimea: It’s Not as Farfetched as You Might Think 

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

Last week marked the 1-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And to that effect, both the Americans For Ukraine and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation hosted deeply moving and insightful events in Washington DC commemorating that anniversary. Meanwhile, this month will mark the anniversary of another major event in the acrimonious history between Russia and Ukraine, that being the 9th anniversary of Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

Now, something that was considered unthinkable in the realms of conventional wisdom just a few short weeks ago is suddenly being given some credibility: the prospect of Ukraine finally retaking Crimea. Could it happen? 

Laying the Groundwork

I generally don’t care for POLITICO Magazine on account on their leftist slant, but hey, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, and I found their 22 February 2023 article “Here’s How Ukraine Could Retake Crimea” penned by Casey Michel to be quite thoughtful and useful.  

Among the key points brought up by Mr. Michel’s article are that Ukrainian territorial regains in areas such as Kherson have started to shift American experts’ thinking on the prospect, but also that Ukraine will first need to liberate significant holdings in places like Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk before seriously considering an assault on Crimea.

Michel also cites the expertise of retired Australian Defense Forces Major General Mick Ryan, who conceives the possibility of “’a large-scale air, sea and land operation to advance on several axes against key land objectives in Crimea,’” forming a “’robust air and sea campaign’” to “’accompany the hundred thousand or so Ukrainian troops required to capture Crimea.’” 

In other words, a combined arms offensive. This would entail bringing Ukraine’s best units and equipment to bear, such as their elite Air Assault Forces to act as shock troops, and aerial assets such as the MiG-29 Fulcrum jet fighter and Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship to provide air cover and close air support (CAS) for the Ukrainian ground troops.  

But there’s additional weaponry still needed to make a Ukrainian triumph in Crimea valuable, according to Alexandra Brzozowski, Global Europe & Defence Editor of EURACTIVUS-made ATACMS missiles, which have a range of roughly 297 kilometers (184.5 miles). but which the Biden Administration has so far declined to provide to Ukraine.

Never mind that other key American allies such as South Korea, Poland, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Qatar and Bahrain already have them.

Crunching the Numbers: Ukrainian vs. Russian Manpower

Now, regarding that projection of 100,000 troops needed for Ukraine to have a realistic shot at retaking Crimea, that sounds like an awfully tall order at first thought.

But, as noted by my friend and former Iraq contracting colleague PJC Dovey RD (“Reserve Distinction”), a retired South African infantry officer who is a subject matter expert on military history, tactics, and strategy, there’s more lurking beneath the surface of that seemingly daunting on-paper numerical disparity between Ukraine and Russia’s armed forces.

As John (as he’s known to his friends) notes in an essay titled “Opinion: The Real Numbers in the Russian Invasion of Ukraine”:

“The actual number of [Russian] troops deployed in Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict was about 360,000, including 280,000 Army, 45,000 Airborne, and 35,000 Marines. In addition, there were about 1,000 special forces personnel…. On the other hand, Ukraine began the conflict with about 251,000 troops, including 225,000 Army, 20,000 Airborne, and 6,000 Marines, with an additional 1,000 special forces personnel. However, the number of paramilitary personnel that Ukraine can deploy is much higher, with about 102,000 personnel available for defense purposes. This brings the total number of Ukrainian personnel involved in the conflict to about 354,000…The Ukrainian military may have fewer troops, but they have more paramilitary personnel, which can be deployed effectively in defense. The Russian military, on the other hand, has a limited number of troops that can be deployed in Ukraine and may not be as effective in defensive operations.” (emphasis added) 

That last sentence in particular is key to this discussion, as, in sharp contrast with March 2014, this time the Russians would be on the defensive in Crimea in a hypothetical Ukrainian liberation mission scenario. 

Crunching More Numbers: Russian Body Count

Then there’s another numerical factor to consider vis-à-vis those manpower stats that John cited: Russian attrition, i.e. the human casualties and materiel losses. The title of an article in today’s edition of The Washington Times, authored by Mike Glenn, tells it straight-up: “Russia’s losses in Ukraine exceed all its wars since WWII, survey finds.” Elaborating via use of statistics obtained for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Mr. Glenn notes that approximately 60,000 – 70,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine in just over a year, compared with 12,000 – 25,000 KIA in Chechnya and 14,000 – 16,000 in Afghanistan.  

Mind you, that number doesn’t even factor in the Russian troops wounded in action; with extremely rare exceptions such as Imperial Japan during WWII, a warring nation’s wounded nearly always outnumber the dead…and you have to figure that substantial numbers of the Russian WIAs are too badly wounded, crippled, or maimed to ever be able to return to frontline service.  

As far as materiel losses are concerned, to cite just a few examples courtesy of my 19FortyFive colleague Stavros Atlamazoglou: 299 fighter, attack, bomber, and transport jets, 287 attack and transport helicopters, 3,350 tanks, 2,352 artillery pieces, 6,593 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 

Granted, the report doesn’t delve into how many of these Russian casualties and equipment losses occurred specifically in Crimea, but nonetheless, when everything discussed within this article is factored in, a Ukrainian liberation of Crimean doesn’t seem too infeasible after all.                   

MORE: Is Russia’s Su-57 Felon Stealth Fighter a Total Bust?

MORE: Merkova: Israel Has A Super Tank 

MORE: F-35I: Israel Has a Stealth Fighter America Dreams Of

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).