Ukraine says it wants to push Russia out of all of its territory — including Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.
The war began in Crimea — and it will also end there.” In his weekly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made it very clear that he did not intend to give up the peninsula Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
According to a Russian interpretation, attacks on Crimea would mean the war had shifted to Russian territory — threatening a further escalation of the war.
But Ukraine continues to regard Crimea as part of its own territory too. “We are going to liberate all our territories, all of it all, including Crimea.” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told US broadcaster CNN in mid-June — even if his adviser Yuriy Sak said that “the most important thing” was “to push the enemy back to achieve the withdrawal of the army of the aggressor at least to the level before February 24.”
In the Soviet Union, Crimea initially belonged to the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). It was only in 1954 that it was given to the Ukrainian SSR by order of Stalin’s successor time Nikita Khrushchev, under circumstances not fully clear to this day. One reason may have been that Khrushchev himself was a native Ukrainian.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea officially became Ukrainian territory, despite the fact that the population comprised 60% ethnic Russians and only about 40% Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Kyiv was never able to fully assert its authority.
Kyiv granted the peninsula autonomy status — and concluded lease agreements with Russia — for the strategically important port of Sevastopol for instance.
Part of Russia’s goal in its current war with Ukraine is to further consolidate its hold over Crimea. In addition to conquering the Donbas, the Kremlin has declared the creation of a Russian-held land corridor from there to Crimea to be one of its most important aims.
Ukraine would be completely cut off from access to the Sea of Azov, and since Crimea extends into the Black Sea like a giant wedge, Russia would also be able to control and block all shipping bound for the last remaining Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa.
The fierce fighting for the small Snake Island suggests that this is also one of Russia’s war goals.It is not clear however, how far Kyiv is prepared to go to bring Crimea back under its control.
The return of the peninsula is “an issue that needs to be negotiated diplomatically,” government adviser Sak said. Yet how a possible return is to be achieved by negotiation is very unclear for now.
Given the current balance of power, the strategic importance of Crimea for Russia, as well as the loyalty of the vast majority of its inhabitants to Moscow, it currently seems very unlikely that Crimea will become Ukrainian again any time soon. It is a war Ukraine would most likely lose.