Clear differences are emerging within the Ukrainian government as to whether Ukraine should make the reconquest of Crimea a non-negotiable goal of its war effort, or should be prepared to trade at least provisional Russian control of the peninsula for Russian concessions elsewhere. This issue also has the potential to create a deep split between Kyiv and Western governments, who fear that Crimea and control of the strategically vital military base of Sevastopol might be the point on which Moscow would be willing to escalate towards nuclear war. The question is becoming more urgent as Ukraine prepares for an offensive that could potentially allow it to cut the land route between Russia and Crimea.
My own research in Ukraine last month suggests that President Volodymyr Zelensky would have very great domestic difficulty in supporting a ceasefire leaving Crimea in Russian hands. Not only would this face strong opposition from hard line nationalists and the Ukrainian military, but the Ukrainian government has helped to foster a general public mood that Crimea must be recovered at all costs.
In a departure from the previous government line, Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of the presidential staff and a veteran Ukrainian diplomat, told the Financial Times last week that, “If we succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield, and when we are on the administrative border of Crimea, we are ready to open a diplomatic page to discuss this issue…[though] this doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army.”
In a recent interview rebroadcast by Radio Liberty, another advisor to Zelensky, former journalist and hard line nationalist politician Mykhaylo Podolyak, however took a very different line from Sybiha, ruling out any compromise with Russia:
“Could there be talks about a diplomatic way out of Crimea?…Yes of course, if [Moscow] starts withdrawing those troops today, then we can wait a day, two or three, while those troops leave together with the [Russian] inhabitants.”
Read the full piece in Foreign Policy.