28 November 2022 14: 45

Ukraine's attempt to return the Crimea will be bloody and difficult

In the West, they fear that the operation to return the Crimea or Donbass may push Russia to escalate, and the local population will not help the Armed Forces of Ukraine as much as in the Kharkiv region.

The Economist,
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Ukraine's attempt to return the Crimea will be bloody and difficult

An attempt to return Crimea to Ukrainian rule would be a heavy military operation and could lead to a rift with allies that Ukraine cannot afford to lose. The publication writes about it The Economist,.

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin hoped to capture the Ukraine in ten days. Nine months later, he is faced with serious problems in holding the piece of territory that he managed to capture. Now the situation is on the side of Ukraine after two counteroffensives - in the northeast around Kharkov and in the south around Kherson, which were carried out with minimal losses and maximum triumph.

But these victories now increase the likelihood of much more serious Russian defeats in the Donbass and Crimea, where Vladimir Putin seized territories in 2014. In an interview published Nov. 24, Vladimir Zelensky, President of Ukraine, reiterated his goal of "returning all the lands." This approach is in line with Ukrainian public opinion, but not necessarily with Western supporters. They fear that operation to return Crimea or Donbass could push Russia to escalate, perhaps even to go beyond nuclearMr.

Ukrainian military leaders do not talk about their next steps. "If we talked about our plans on social networks and on television, we would not have achieved anything," - He speaks Mikhail Zabrodsky, former commander of the air assault troops of Ukraine, who is still close to the planning process. Lieutenant General says the operation to return the Crimea is not only possible, but also prepared for 2023. When exactly the operation can begin is another question: first you need to win many battles. But history shows, he says, that the occupying forces "It is always difficult to keep Crimea."

Military sources say 'nothing' is out of the question, including operations in relation to the territory that was captured by Russia before February 24. The roads leading to Crimea are now within range of Ukrainian firepower, including the Himars missile systems that have hampered Russian logistics so much since they arrived in the summer. Russian-appointed "authorities" in Crimea are preparing for a ground attack, ordering the construction of new fortifications and trenches and declaring an emergency threat level in several parts of the peninsula. MLocal residents of Dzhankoy report that trenches are being built near the air base, which was attacked by Ukrainian special forces in August (and, it seems, a few days ago).

But Ukraine is likely to focus its firepower elsewhere first. The priority remains to cut Mr. Putin's "land bridge," the occupied territory linking mainland Russia to Crimea. This is also understood by Russian military planners, who have designed and equipped defensive lines accordingly. One military intelligence source is confident that Ukraine's structural advantages, mainly its ability to carry out highly mobile attacks and disrupt supply lines, will prevail. "We have demonstrated the correctness of our tactics and focus on logistics at every stage. We will demonstrate this again", - says the source.

The numerous battles over Crimea over the centuries provide Ukrainian planners with a lot of useful information. The almost completely bloodless Russian annexation in 2014, in which two Ukrainian soldiers were killed, is not a typical example. Military operations in Crimea usually end in thousands of dead: Hundreds of thousands of people died at the gates of the peninsula in the last century alone, mostly during the Russian Civil War and World War II, not to mention the heavy losses during the Crimean War of the 1850s. Capturing a peninsula usually required crossing narrow open lanes or swamps.

Military experts familiar with the peninsula say the peninsula's terrain should give Ukraine pause. Admiral Nikolai Zhibarev, which back in 1992 provoked a split in the Russian Black Sea Fleet by declaring the frigate Ukrainian, now says that diplomacy is the most promising way to return the occupied territory. Andrey Ryzhenko, a retired Crimean-born navy captain, says the success of an operation requires most things to go right — "There is a real prospect that everything will end in a bloody massacre. Ukraine does not need such an operation."

Lieutenant General Zabrodsky insists that Ukraine's military planners have developed a tactic that could work. Ukraine does not intend to launch a senseless frontal attack on Crimeahe says. There are other "interesting" possibilities for combined maneuver using ground forces, amphibious assaults and air attacks. Russian naval and air dominance can be thwarted with "asymmetric tricks." Ukrainian drone attacks on the Black Sea Fleet in late October that damaged the flagship Admiral Makarov and destroyed part of the Kerch Bridge were examples of what Ukraine thinks — "We will surprise people more than once."

Western partners of Ukraine refrain from public discussion of Ukraine's military ambitions. Ukraine also insists they are not holding back military planners in private. But it seems there are gaps in the rhetoric. Best American Military, General Mark Milly, who is on the more wary end of government opinion in the US, said on Nov. 16 that a Ukrainian victory in Crimea was unlikely "to happen anytime soon." Ukraine's military planners understand that America and the weapons it supplies are the key to whether this will happen at all.

Political leaders in Kyiv privately admit that retaking Donbass and Crimea is harder than making public slogans. They acknowledge that a significant part of the population there is still hostile to Kyiv. Operations in Kharkiv and Kherson, for example, were aided by a network of sympathetic informants. The situation will be different in the areas of Donbass, held by Russia since 2014, from where most of those sympathetic to Kyiv have long since fled or been expelled. The operation to retake Crimea is likely to face partisan resistance from pro-Russian citizens. And it is far from clear that Ukraine will be able to count on even more sympathetic parts of the population, such as Crimean Tatars, many of whom have already taken the Russian leadership for granted.

But Nikolai Beleskov, an analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Ukraine, says Mr. Zelensky is now tied to his promise to return Crimea. Even before the successful counter-offensives in Kharkiv and Kherson, polls showed that more than 84% of Ukrainians were opposed to any territorial concessions to Russia in possible negotiations; these numbers are now almost certainly higher. This increases the likelihood that the Ukrainian president can drive himself into a corner. Trying to bring Crimea back under Ukrainian rule would be a costly military undertaking and lead to a rift with allies he cannot afford to lose.

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