After a series of crushing defeats for Russia’s military in Ukraine from the northeast to the south over the last several weeks, Russian authorities in Moscow appear to be increasingly concerned that Ukraine has set its sights on seizing back Crimea next.
Russian MP Andrei Gurulyov on Sunday urged Moscow to determine the risk of Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization launching an attack on Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Russian MP Mikhail Sheremet warned that Ukrainian troops will suffer a “final crushing blow” if they launch an attack on Crimea.
In an apparent attempt to temper fears that Ukraine would go after Crimea, the chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on defense and security, Viktor Bondarev, warned Monday that he doesn’t think Ukraine has the firepower to take back Crimea.
“Ukraine has neither the resources, nor the military force, nor the support of the Crimeans for the promised offensive on the peninsula,” Bondarev said, adding, “‘Crimea is ours’ is not only a slogan and a hashtag. It is an unshakable reality.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his administration have been warning for months that Ukraine will work to take back Crimea from Russia. And now, with mounting losses for Russia’s army, the pressure is on. Russia just fled the strategically important city of Kherson in the south of Ukraine, a move which the top Ukrainian official in charge of Crimea told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview would be an important precursor to seizing back Crimea.
The Russian officials' commentary comes after a flurry of Ukrainian officials signaled over the weekend that Ukraine is preparing to kick Russia out of Crimea. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Volodymyr Havrylov, told Sky News he predicted Ukrainian forces could be in Crimea by the end of the year.
“It's only a matter of time and, of course, we would like to make it sooner than later,” he said, adding that the timeline is uncertain.
His commentary on the timeline echoed what the top Ukrainian official in charge of Crimea told The Daily Beast. The official, Tamila Tasheva, had said Ukraine could take back Crimea by spring or summer of next year, although she said she thinks it could happen sooner. Tasheva, too, stressed that the exact timeline remains to be seen.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelensky’s office, and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna both signaled this weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum that a Crimea takeover plan is on the horizon, according to Politico.
Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser for Zelensky, warned Monday that a Russian retreat in Crimea, like the retreat Russia had to order in Kherson, is coming soon.
“Russian propagandists had an order to forget word ‘Kherson,’” Podolyak said. “Today—forgetting Kherson. Tomorrow—Donetsk and Crimea. Soon—Ukraine.”
Bondarev alleged that Ukrainians are just bluffing and making statements about Crimea in order to gain more western military aid and boost morale in the war.
“The expressed desire of the Kyiv authorities to return to the territorial status quo of February 2014 is nothing more than flirting with their own citizens and the desire to convince them of the coming victory, an attempt to boost the morale of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and throw dust in the eyes of Western patrons in the hope of their enhanced assistance,” Bondarev said.
Gurulyov accused Ukrainians of faking confidence as well.
“The… statements that they will go to the Crimea by December are bravado, no one is announcing their offensive,” Gurulyov said.
Nonetheless, Russia is preparing a “covert” mobilization in Crimea, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Monday. The Russian-installed administration in Crimea gathered with local authorities on Saturday to discuss what it viewed as lacking mobilization into Russia’s army, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The group decided to issue summonses for further mobilization on Monday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
“On the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, measures of covert mobilization to the ranks of the Russian occupying forces are ongoing,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an announcement.
Already, some civilians in Crimea are taking a hint and starting to flee Crimea, according to Emil Ibragimov, the head of the educational platform Q-Hub.
And while the Russian-installed governor for Crimea has been signaling that Russia is working to defend Crimea and that everything is fine, a Ukrainian counteroffensive, whether successful or not, could be quite disruptive. Some experts warn that Putin’s claim to legitimacy in Russia has come, in part, from illegally annexing Crimea, so his response to any risk of losing Crimea could be harsh. Russian officials, including deputy chairman of Russia's defense council, Dmitry Medvedev, have threatened a “doomsday” response if Crimea is attacked.
Following Ukrainian attacks on Russian military bases in Crimea, Russia has begun unleashing a series of attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure and civilians, which has left, in just the last week, half of Ukraine’s energy system disabled, according to Ukraine’s Prime Minister.