WASHINGTON – For years, the United States has maintained that Crimea is still part of Ukraine. Yet the Biden administration has been fighting back since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, refusing to hand Kyiv weapons to annex the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has been using as a base for launching destructive protests.
Now the line has softened.
After months of negotiations with Ukrainian officials, the Biden administration has begun to agree that Kyiv may need force to destroy Russian sanctuaries, although the move could increase the threat, according to several unnamed US officials. discuss a difficult argument. Crimea, between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is home to thousands of Russian soldiers who have been dug in with dozens of Russian military equipment.
The move comes as the Biden administration believes that if Ukraine’s military can signal to Russia that its control over Crimea could be threatened, that would strengthen Kyiv’s position in any future negotiations. In addition, fears that the Kremlin might retaliate with nuclear weapons have faded, US officials and experts said – although they warned that the threat remained.
The new decision in Crimea – illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 – shows how the Biden administration came from when the war started, when they were afraid to admit publicly that the United States was supplying Stinger anti-aircraft weapons to the Ukrainian military. .
But in the course of the conflict, the United States and its NATO allies have been loosening the shackles they have imposed on themselves, from providing Javelins and Stingers to advanced missile systems, Patriot air defense systems, armored fighting vehicles and even some Western tanks. to give Ukraine the strength to resist Russian aggression.
Now, the Biden administration is considering what might be one of its boldest moves yet, helping Ukraine invade an island that President Vladimir V. Putin sees as a key part of his quest to restore Russia’s former glory.
American officials are discussing with their Ukrainian counterparts the use of American-supplied weapons, from HIMARS rocket systems to Bradley fighting vehicles, to possibly monitor Mr. Putin has fought hard for the land bridge that serves as a key link between Crimea and Russia. through the Russian-controlled cities of Melitopol and Mariupol.
However, President Biden is not ready to give Ukraine long-range missiles that Kyiv would need to attack Russian installations on the island.
Ukrainian officials have insisted that Crimea is the most important target of their invasion, and that continued military pressure on Russian territory is a key part of their strategy. Ukrainian military officials have also discussed with American officials the need to increase pressure on Russia’s rear in Crimea, which supports military operations elsewhere in Ukraine.
With the Black Sea fleet, Russia’s main air base, a command center and a facility to support Russia in southern Ukraine, the peninsula represents a major target for Kyiv’s war preparations.
By deciding to give the Bradleys to Ukraine, the Biden administration came close to giving Kyiv something that Ukrainian officials have been pleading with the United States for months: to direct American aid to Ukraine for the offense — including targeting Crimea.
Bradleys are armored personnel carriers with powerful 25 mm guns and vertical missiles capable of taking on Russian tanks.
Frederick B. Hodges, a retired general and head of the US military in Europe, said that in the coming months the Ukrainian military may use Bradleys to help cut the land bridge.
The ability to rely on forces in Crimea to act is a key reason why Russian forces were able to seize territory in southern Ukraine last year, a US official said. Minimizing that power is the main military objective of the Ukrainians.
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“Ukraine can use Bradleys to move forces along major roads, such as the M14, which connects Kherson, Melitopol and Mariupol,” added Seth G. Jones, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Any Ukrainian soldier passing through these areas would face heavy fire from Russia, and the Bradleys provide effective fire and protection for the troops.”
The Bradleys, along with British tanks and armored fighting vehicles that France and Germany have agreed to send, could be at the forefront of an army that Ukraine could use this winter or spring, government and independent experts have said.
“We think now is the right time to step up our support for Ukraine,” British foreign secretary James Cleverly said Tuesday during a visit to Washington. “We cannot allow this to continue and become a kind of first world war.”
The British Ministry of Defense said Twitter message last week that in recent weeks, Russia has strengthened defense fences between Zaporizhzhia, a region in southern Ukraine near the land bridge, and where Russia maintains a large military base.
If Ukraine were to focus on recapturing Zaporizhzhia, then the first attack would include striking the nearby Crimea. “Ukraine’s major victory in Zaporizhzhia would argue that Russia’s ‘land bridge’ could be successful,” said the British.
Ukraine also has American-supplied HIMARS, long-range rocket systems. With last year’s recapture of Kherson in the south, Ukrainian forwards can now use them to strike the main exit routes from Crimea, a senior American military official said in an interview.
This week, US and Ukrainian officials will hold a preparatory meeting in Germany to finalize offensive plans, a US official said. The drill, the official said, should coordinate Ukraine’s military plans with the types of weapons and equipment NATO is supporting.
Ukrainian officials fear their country will not survive years of war as Russia continues to destroy cities and towns. So they see no choice but to target Crimea and take risks, a US official said, noting that the issue has come up during recent meetings at the White House.
However, despite the additional weapons, the Biden administration does not think that Ukraine can take Crimea in a war – and, there are concerns that such a move could make Mr. Putin retaliated with a larger response. But, the officials said, their assessment now is that Russia needs to believe that Crimea is in danger, in part to strengthen Ukraine’s role in any future negotiations.
By showing the possibility of a strike in Crimea, US officials say, Ukraine may show that Russian rule is not established. The Biden administration also believes that hitting Russia’s rear lines emerging from Crimea would seriously damage Moscow’s ability to move forward, officials say.
“Without Crimea, everything falls apart,” said Evelyn Farkas, the Pentagon’s head of Ukraine under Obama.
Helping to change the mindset and reduce the fear that targeting Crimea would cause Mr. Putin to use a nuclear weapon, officials say. “I feel like more and more, the administration is realizing that the threat of Russian escalation is probably not what they thought it was,” General Hodges said.
Although the attack on Ukrainians inside Russia proper has caused a lot of concern from the US officials, the way Moscow has carried out from time to time special events in Ukraine or secret attacks in Crimea, including against Russian air bases, posts and ships in the Black Sea, it’s gone down.
“There is a clear understanding of their tolerance for damage and attack,” said Dara Massicot, senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “Crimea has already been attacked many times without much escalation from the Kremlin.”
However, Putin and the Russian people see Crimea as part of Russia, so an attack there would strengthen Russia’s support for the war.
For their part, US officials say they do not know what Putin will do if Ukraine invades Crimea using American weapons.
Ms. Massicot said that none of the developments in Ukraine’s Crimea so far have threatened Russia’s ability to maintain its claim on the island. “So it may not be an accurate test of Russia in this regard,” he said.
Last month, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken reiterated America’s policy on Ukraine – that the Biden administration wants to help the country recover territory that was seized during and after the Russian invasion last year.
“Our goal is to continue to do what we have been doing, and to make sure that Ukraine has in its hands what it needs to defend itself, what it needs to get back from Russian aggression, to get back the territories it occupied from Feb. 24,” Mr. Blinken told the Wall conference. Street Journal CEO Council. By Mr. Blinken’s interpretation, that territory does not include Crimea.
The critics say, this role has given the Russian military an untouchable place that can harm Ukraine.
“We have set a limit in Ukraine, saying that this war will take place on your soil and not on Russian soil,” said Philip Breedlove, a retired Air Force general who was NATO’s commander in Europe when Russia. invaded Crimea in 2014. “Giving Russia a sanctuary where it can fight, without fear of ridicule, is absolutely unwise. There is no military intelligence. “