Ukraine has outlined a plan for how it could seize control of Crimea back from Putin’s grip – including dismantling a key bridge that the despot is said to be particularly proud of. Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, published the plan ahead of Kyiv’s planned counteroffensive this spring.
While Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, most of the world refuses to recognise it as Russian territory.
Ownership of the peninsula will be a crucial feature of any peace negotiations which could bring an end of the ongoing war, with the Kremlin demanding Ukraine recognise its authority over Crimea as part of its conditions for peace.
Moscow is making the same demands for other land gains made by Moscow, which while vastly less than what Putin planned, still accounts for a significant chunk of the country. Ukraine has refused to partake in any peace talks until Russian troops have left all occupied territories.
In his plan, Danilov suggested prosecuting any Ukrainians who worked for the Moscow-appointed administration in Crimea. He said some would face criminal charges, while others would lose government pensions and be banned from public jobs.
Any Russians who moved to Crimea after 2014 would be expelled. Meanwhile, all real estate deals made under Russian rule would be nullified.
The plan includes also dismantling the 19km strategic bridge – Europe’s longest – which links the claimed Black Sea peninsula to Russia.
A truck bomb significantly damaged the bridge in October, with Russia pointing the finger at Ukrainian military intelligence. Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the bomb, but Ukrainian officials had repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge in the past.
Politico had earlier quoted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as saying that Washington is “not actively encouraging” Ukraine to retake Crimea, and that the decision is Kyiv’s to make.
It added Pentagon officials have recently questioned Ukraine’s ability to take Crimea in the near future, given the ongoing fighting in both the Donbas and the south of the country.
Last Tuesday Mr Blinken repeated this sentiment. During a virtual panel chaired by the Secretary of State, he said “many voices” were suggesting Ukraine was not capable of fully restoring its “territorial integrity”.
He added it’s not possible or that it’s “too risky and too dangerous to try to liberate Crimea [and] that Vladimir Putin will not give up the peninsula.”
However, Blinken went on to say: “Ukraine is by no means weak.
“We need to support the brave Ukrainians and make sure that they will have all the means to restore the territorial integrity of their country, including Crimea.”
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In another part of the plan that has been particularly poorly received by Russia, Mr Danilov argued for renaming the city of Sevastopol – a Crimean port and the main base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
He said it could be called Object No. 6 before the Ukrainian parliament chooses another name, and suggested Akhtiar after a village that once stood where the city is now.
The Moscow-appointed head of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, shrugged off Danilov’s plan as “sick.”
He told the Russian state news agency Tass: “It would be wrong to seriously treat comments by sick people. They must be cured, and that’s what our military is doing now.”
Ukrainian troops are preparing to use newly supplied Western weapons, including dozens of battle tanks, to break through Russian defences and reclaim occupied areas in a counteroffensive expected as early as this month.
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