The Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to unfold in the country’s south and east.
Ukraine’s military has hit a roadblock of minefields, artillery, drones, and trenches, and it has failed to advance at the pace many in the West had hoped for. But the goal for Ukrainian forces remains the same: Drive to the coast of the Sea of Azov, split Russian forces into two large pockets, and eradicate them separately.
After the Ukrainian forces have achieved this first step, Kyiv wants to liberate Crimea.
Crimea Is the Plan for Ukraine
Kyiv has repeatedly stated that the Crimean Peninsula is a legitimate target and that Ukraine would seek to oust the Russians from it.
Now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has revealed that his government has a plan for the “day after,” including measures for the population of the peninsula.
“We are . . . preparing a list of de-occupation steps for Crimea. Comprehensive steps: security, economic, and social,” Zelensky said in a recent address to the Ukrainian people.
“We can quickly reintegrate Crimea into the state fabric of Ukraine. In fact, the occupiers should already consider that while the Crimean bridge is still somewhat operational, they should return home to Russia,” the Ukrainian leader added.
The population of Crimea might pose a challenge to Kyiv’s plans. Over the last nine years, the Kremlin has done a lot to reshape the composition of Crimeans, sending settlers to the peninsula to render it more Russian.
“Crimea, like the rest of Ukraine, will be free — free from all Russian evil, starting with Russian missiles and ending with every Russian occupier. Russia will lose this war, and no missile will save it,” Zelensky said.
The Russian Response
Russia will not easily leave Crimea to the Ukrainians. Indeed, the initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014 began in Crimea because of its key strategic location.
Crimea is often called the “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” because of its geography and the fact that it can host key ports and airfields. As such, it is worth a lot to the Kremlin. After invading and annexing Crimea in 2014, Moscow turned the peninsula into a huge military base, with advanced anti-access, area-denial systems designed to protect Russia’s southern flank from NATO.
The Kremlin has fortified Crimea and is waiting for the Ukrainians in case they achieve an operational breakthrough in Southern Ukraine or the Donbas. Judging from the Russian military’s defensive success in the past couple of months, Russian forces will put up a fierce fight in the avenues of approach to Crimea.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin could go even further, launching a tactical nuclear weapon if he feels that Crimea might be lost. After all, the loss of Crimea could spell the demise of Putin’s grip on power. He might resort to extremes to prevent that.
This is an unlikely but dreadful scenario.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.
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