Zelensky Further Clarifies War Aims, Vows Recapture of Crimea

Ukrainian President Zelensky has been very clear that he will not accept a “frozen conflict” in Ukraine, such as what happened after the 2014 Donbas Crisis, which resulted in the seizure of Crimea and the majority of the Ukrainian Navy. However, while he has repeated that he will not cede the four oblasts (Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donestk, and Luhansk), he has left some strategic ambiguity on the issue of Crimea. While he has been cited privately and amongst foreign leaders as saying one of his goals is the recapture of Crimea, a Russian red-line, he rarely spoken decisively on the issue until now.

In an interview with CNN, the embattled president told viewers that: “”We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea. And as long as Crimea is under Russian occupation, this means only one thing: the war is not over yet.”

He added that an end to the conflict without Ukrainian control of Crimea: “it will not be a victory.”

He also commented on his surprise and displeasure with the coverage of CIA Director Burns’ visits to Ukraine. He said:

“My communication with the head of the CIA must always remain off-screen,” he said. “We are discussing important things – what Ukraine needs and how Ukraine is ready to act…We don’t have any secrets from the CIA, because we have good relations, and our special services talk to each other,” Zelenskyy said.

“The situation is quite simple. We have a good relationship with the head of the CIA, and we are talking. I told him about all the important things related to the battlefield that we need.”

Establishing the recapture of Crimea as a war goal, while Russia has claimed the retention of Crimea as a war goal, sets the international scene for a prolonged conflict and an immense opportunity for escalation. However, several leaders in the American government, specifically representatives Paul and Massie have signaled that their willingness to support Ukraine in a prolonged war with Russia has evaporated. If this feeling of war-weariness in the U.S. government expands to a majority block, then Western aid to Ukraine will almost certainly shrivel up as the U.S. has supplied the lion’s share of funds, material, and aid.

These comments also demonstrate the Ukrainian government’s new resolve to continue the counter-offensive. The most promising gains have been made in and around Bakhmut, in which Ukrainian forces have progressed more than 2km on the city’s flanks and have also assaulted the urban areas that were thrown out of by Wagner only one month ago.

In Zaporizhzhia, the most dramatic fighting has unfolded since the start of the offensive in June, with Ukrainian troops breaching several lines and in some cases, being turned back as their Western-supplied tanks and IFVs meet Russian fire for the first time. On the immediate front, the capture of Tokmak would allow for a renewed push on Melitopol, a key Ukrainian city in the oblast. However, Russian fortifications and interior lines make reinforcement along the FLOT make defense much easier for the Russians, who just recently relocated dozens of tactical rotary aviation assets into Zaporizhzhia.

Perhaps most interestingly is the confirmation from both Urkainian and Russian sources that since the start of the counteroffensive, the Urkainian military has established a bridgehead at the Antonivsky bridge near Kherson. Despite Russian attempts to dislodge this bridgehead, the Ukrainians have held for at least two weeks, which could signal a renewed push to cross the Dnipro River.

Overall, the Ukrainian President’s comments today are novel and significant in that they come at a decisive moment during the counteroffensive and increasing American war-weariness. Claiming the recapture of Crimea as a war aim will almost certainly prolong the conflict as President Zelensky must now demonstrate an ability and will to meet these war aims.

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Ethan Alun
Ethan Alun
A United States Naval Academy and American Military University Alumni, Ethan covers flash military, intelligence, and geo-political updates.
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