Crimea as the next goal of Kyiv? Putin is afraid of the biggest conquest

Ukraine
Is Kyiv Crimea the next destination? Putin fears his biggest victory

According to Putin, Crimea has the status of a “holy place”, whose illegal annexation restored “historical justice”.

© Mikhail Metzel / Picture Alliance

After the liberation of Kherson, Ukraine is bursting with self-confidence and now wants to regain Crimea as well. For Vladimir Putin, her loss could mean the end. This is why the struggle for the peninsula is so unpredictable.

This article first appeared on ntv.de.

For Ukraine, Crimea is where it all began. From Kyiv’s point of view, the attack on the entire country was made possible primarily by the fact that the West in 2014 allowed Russia to annex the peninsula in violation of international law. Now that the Russians themselves have been expelled from Kherson, the repatriation of Crimea is within reach – either militarily or at the negotiating table. There can be peace with Russia, the head of the presidential office Andriy Yermak said recently, if Moscow accepts the borders of 1991. “We are coming back,” announced the head of the Ukrainian secret service, Kyrylo Budanov, in the online newspaper Ukrainska pravda. And he added, “Yes, with weapons.”

What sounds audacious in the face of nuclear power is more than wishful thinking. There is a good chance that Crimea will become the decisive theater of this war. After numerous military victories, Kyiv is not only verbally increasing the pressure, Ukrainian forces are also pushing ever deeper into the occupied areas near the peninsula. Crimea itself is still beyond the range of Ukrainian missiles and artillery. However, if the city of Mariupol, which was occupied by Russia at the beginning of the invasion, were to be recaptured, the peninsula would be cut off from the currently most important supply route, the land route through occupied southeastern Ukraine. .

This would be a big problem for Russia – especially since the partially damaged Kerch bridge as an alternative supply line is no longer available and further attacks can be expected. A large army unit is stationed in Crimea next to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Even before the invasion began in February, Moscow had additionally reinforced its troops there, according to Ukrainian military intelligence, by two to three tactical battalions. If they are cut off from supplies, Putin could be forced to act. The biggest victory of his presidency would be on the horizon. An incomparable loss of control that may not remain without political consequences.

Most Russians support Putin

Rumors about a possible coup attempt in the Kremlin have persisted for a long time. But there is little evidence that Putin is actually politically isolated and weakened. According to a survey by the independent Russian public opinion research institute Levada in October, the president achieved 79 percent sympathy among the population. Very few Russians personally blame Putin for what they see as the disastrous course of the war, although 88 percent say they are “very concerned” or “concerned” about the current situation in Ukraine. Only 36 percent want to continue the military operation, the majority (57 percent) are in favor of negotiations.

However, neither the spring exit from the greater Kyiv region nor from Lyman in eastern Ukraine damaged Putin’s reputation. Even the loss of Kherson, which was annexed only shortly before its liberation by Ukrainian troops at the beginning of October, should not make much of a difference in the Kremlin chief’s polls, according to Levada head Leva Gudkov. “Censorship and propaganda will diminish the significance of this event and the gravity of the defeat,” Gudkov told Russian-language TV channel RTVi. It would not be so easy in Crimea.

Putin: Crimea is a ‘sacred place’ for Russia

While most Russians have only mild interest in the annexed regions of Ukraine – in addition to Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhia – Putin believes that Crimea has the status of a “sacred place” for the Russian people, whose annexation is “historical justice”. “restored. And, by the way, the peninsula is also a popular vacation destination. When a huge cloud of smoke rose above the Sakai military base after the bombing and darkened the sky on the spa town’s beach in August, at prime travel time, the war entered the collective Russian consciousness for the first time.

The effect that Ukraine’s advance on Crimea would have would be all the greater. Militarily, however, the offensive on the peninsula presents many problems. “It would be an extremely difficult act that Kyiv is unlikely to do until other fronts are open,” says military expert Gustav Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in an interview with ntv.de. According to Gressel, Ukraine already lacks enough ammunition and weapons, lacks an air force and a naval fleet. And Crimea is heavily fortified. The only option would be an attack across the several kilometer wide land bridge that connects the Ukrainian mainland with Crimea. It’s always risky.

Ben Hodges, the former commander of the US military in Europe, is far more optimistic. Once the Ukrainian military brings its long-range artillery — including HIMARS rocket launchers — within range of Russian military bases in Crimea, the Kerch Strait bridge will become an “invitation to retreat” for the Russians. According to Hodges, it could be as early as the summer of 2023. The question is how Putin will react in such a scenario. Concerns are growing among Kiev’s Western allies that it could escalate the war further in retaliation. “There will be no Russian president who will get Crimea back,” former chancellor and Putin friend Gerhard Schröder told Spiegel in 2021. At least he could be right about that.

Judith Görs/ntv.de

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