I find it worrisome, at this stage, that Crimea is discussed as if a special case. Putin’s and Russians’ affection for Crimea don’t matter. It’s Ukrainian territory. Leaving it in Russian hands is the reward to the aggressor that makes him come back for more and more. Ben Hodges has the right idea, make a corridor to the Azov Sea (no easy task), thereby cutting off the “land bridge” supply line to Crimea. Take out the Kerch bridge with long-range artillery. Shell airbases and Sevastopol naval harbor (if any Russian ships left). An untenable situation for Russia on Crimea should perhaps be an early war target for Ukraine. If Russia loses its crown jewel of looted land, the rest may fall into place more easily.

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If Ukraine liberates Crimea, operations in the eastern territories occupied since 2014 may not even be necessary, since Russian population will be shocked by the loss of Crimea and will realize that the war is lost (now most Russians still assume that eventually Russia will win the entire war). That may potentially lead to the fall of Putin and earnest negotiations to end the war, since not many people will see a lot of value in bloody fighting to hold on to a strip of land in Donbas and it will be clear to most Russians that they'd need a total mobilization to even have a chance of reconquering Crime, which nobody will want.

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Jan 31, 2023·edited Jan 31, 2023

Western and allied support has to fit the goal of returning Crimea, very believably absolutely necessary for a real end to war and a possible peace. We may seem a long way from that, and hesitancy ( fear) about it adds to that perception, keeping back, *preventing*, the fullest support. "To be or not to be." But if "to be" it is, lest we lose, imagine, then full support had better happen now, not incrementally. This is an echo of many voices, lately Michael McFaul in Foreign Affairs. So say it: "Crimea must go back to Ukraine". https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ukraine/how-get-breakthrough-ukraine

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Yes. If at the end Russia still keeps Crimea, most Russians will believe that Russia won the war. There are already memes on social media saying that 26 million Russians died because Stalin did not believe intelligence (about imminent German invasion). The (preposterous) implication is that a preemptive strike would have been very beneficial (in fact it would have made the situation only worse). And the conclusion is that Putin was right to start a preemptive war, since presumably Ukraine was preparing to attack Russia. That will definitely become the official line if Russia still holds Crimea when the war ends. Putin will just declare victory, explaining that Ukraine tried to attack and seize Crimea, but Russian preemptive strike disrupted those plans and enabled Russia to fight off the Ukrainian (really NATO) attack and successfully defend Russian Crimea. This may sound ridiculous, but remember that Saddam Hussein managed to declare victory (with nobody daring to contradict him) even after being thrown out of Kuwait. Liberation of Crimea is a necessary condition for a lasting peace, but it may not even be sufficient.

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Jan 31, 2023·edited Jan 31, 2023

Putin has his narrative of entitlement and victimhood. How many believe it, continue to, and will sacrifice for it? He will not or cannot change this investment, so backed into a corner. Maybe the Russian people are getting another message as the country becomes more totalitarian, loses good people, tries to raise more army, suffers isolation becomes another outlaw (like Iran and North Korea).

It is essential for international law, sovereignty of all countries, to return Crimea to Ukraine. It seems to come down to that. If there is a ceasefire without that, war will continue. Crimea will be a perch from which to destroy Ukraine.

The United Nations has a stronger part to play here. Russia should be suspended from the Security Council until it abides by the UN charter and international law.

Western sanctions can be tightened much further (as per M. McFaul in the current Foreign Affairs). The message needs to get louder to the Russians that this is not a fight that the West is engaging in for reconquer, nor to destroy Russia. Russia needs to make a choice going forward. Is there room for such negotiation with full withdrawal?

Right now Putin is destroying Russia, Russia's future.

But it will be very hard for Putin, with this myth of his, his pride, to lose Crimea and keep his rule unless he can sell that he achieved something. That gets harder and harder as this goes on.

If Ukraine with sufficient aid, challenges Putin in Crimea smartly, strongly, Crimeans, not only implanted Russians may flee, the peninsula will suffer destruction. The price will be paid, a high one. Imagine if Ukraine with less than West’s fullest help, if it is half hearted or weak, loses Crimea- it will be a loss for the West and the world. A lot is at stake in Crimea.

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Many thanks Mick for your insightful & balanced views.

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Thanks for another informative article.

Imho, it's _more_ difficult, after 2022, for Ukraine to cede territory to Moscow, since cession is now almost impossible to frame as other than a victory for RF; and the behaviour of RF forces, military & civil, in occupied lands leads many to conclude that Ukraine has a moral obligation to free the territory.

But for Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire with RF forces still in occupation is also very difficult, not only because of the sense of moral obligation just described, but also because the Kremlin can hardly be trusted to observe the ceasefire other than as an opportunity to recover before making another attack.

This is not to say that Ukraine has no room to negotiate. For example, if Ukraine were a member of NATO, Kyiv (and the people of Ukraine, who have to approve a settlement) may be content for Crimea to be a demilitarised zone, and this may satisfy some RF concerns.


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you have schizofrenia

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Great article, Mick. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and expertise on this complicated situation. Whatever happens, it will be a long, deadly slog.

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Have one read "Crimea: The Last Crusade" by British historian Orlando Figes ? I am very fond of history, reading a lot on various subjects. And I recommend for those interested, this revisiting/reading, which might shed a light on the ambitions of Russia to hold Crimeea. Study was published before 2019. So not influenced by current events.

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