Different scenarios for the end of the war in Ukraine have been discussed. These scenarios do not always include Crimea. Why is this happening and how Ukraine will return Crimea
Let's go back to 2014. Immediately after the Maidan, Russia attacked Ukraine, sent troops into Crimea, seized it, and began aggression in other regions of Ukraine, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Odesa. Their plan was to divide Ukraine into several parts. Years later, in the summer of 2021, Kremlin advisor Vladislav Surkov openly stated in the Financial Times that the Minsk agreements, from Russia's point of view, represented the first division of Ukraine legitimized by the West. They didn't hide it. And in this regard, the issue of Crimea was not raised at all.
If we go back to 2014 again, we will see that Ukraine's allies were not ready to provide any political, economic, not to mention military-technical support, so that Ukraine could maintain its sovereignty, including over Crimea and ORDLO (a term referencing occupied Donbas - ed.). Why?
In the West, for a long time, the Russian leadership – Putin's elite, with the help of their agents of influence and lobbyists in business and politics – formed several theses. The first was Ukraine is not a real state, but rather an artificial construction. They have been actively promoting this thesis since the 1990s. Recall that back in the early 90s, the Russians viewed Ukraine as an artificial state that would very quickly disappear from the map of Europe in negotiations with the Americans. This thesis was one of the main ones by which the Russians justified the need to take away nuclear weapons from Ukraine as soon as possible, so that in the event of Ukraine’s disappearance, collapse, or some kind of nationalist rebellion (they have been scaring Americans with Ukrainian nationalists since the early 90s), the nuclear weapons would not fall into totally unreliable hands or be sold.
In fact, the same narrative about Ukraine as a failed state that is about to collapse into several parts, namely a pro-Russian part inhabited mostly by Russians and Russian speakers, and then other parts was already being successfully promoted in the United States in 2014, and was then believed by some of the top advisors in the Obama administration. Some of these people now work in the presidential administration, however, despite the fact that they shared this opinion (we are talking about Michael McFaul).
Moreover, such voices were also heard from Ukraine.
So, this narrative then did not allow us to raise the issue of Crimea on the agenda, and for a very long time the issue of Crimea was considered closed, including in the West. Since March 2014, Henry Kissinger and a number of other consultants to American politicians have been saying that the page on Crimea has already turned, and that this should be forgotten. Let's not forget that in 2016, immediately after the victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election, Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal calling on Ukraine to give up Crimea for the sake of peace. This was not his opinion, but by making this argument, Pinchuk tried to play on the feelings of the American establishment, namely the part that continued to believe that Russia is a great power which should remain a guarantor of security and cooperation, at least in Eastern Europe, and most of all in Europe in general. The same thoughts were unleashed in Germany, France, and many other states.
Why is the issue of Crimea back on the agenda?
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have shown that they can smash the Russian army, and that the Russian state is not great either politically, economically, or militarily. They have shown that Russia is a pariah state, and if this is the case, then why should it be rewarded for its aggression? After all, if Crimea does not return to Ukraine, it will look like a reward for Russia for aggression. We are trying to explain both in the West and in the countries of the global south why the Ukrainian case is unique: the fact that a nuclear state gave guarantees of security and territorial integrity to a non-nuclear state in exchange for the latter forfeiting its nuclear arsenal (the third-largest in the world), and then the former violated its obligations. This case is unique. Moreover, Russia used Crimea to prepare an attack on Ukraine, and it is possible that it could use Crimea (hypothetically, because it is difficult to imagine that Crimea will remain in Russia) to deploy nuclear weapons there. In addition, Crimea is unique in another way, in that if it remains in Russia, it means that trade in the Black Sea (grain exports and imports we need) will be constantly under threat. The resumption of peaceful navigation and peaceful maritime trade in the Black Sea is possible only if Crimea is Ukrainian.
From all points of view - military, economic, and strategic - Ukraine must regain Crimea, and Russia must be punished for its aggression, including in Crimea. The head of Ukrainian intelligence recently spoke about the return of Crimea "in a combined way: both by force and diplomacy." Here, obviously, we are talking about if Russia (this seems very unlikely now) were to the first to take steps towards peace. I think that this will not happen, but when they talk about such options, it is that Russia will withdraw its troops to the line as of February 23 and then begin serious peace negotiations. Then we raise the question of the ownership of Crimea and the fact that Russian troops cannot remain on the territory of Crimea.
If you remember, fantastical options were discussed in March of this year via the mediation of Turkey, in which there would supposedly be some kind of transitional period during which the issues of Crimea and Donbas would not be raised. This is the maximum position that Russia was ready to take.
I do not believe that any diplomatic means of returning Crimea are possible, because Russia will not voluntarily make concessions and will not return Crimea to Ukraine. Therefore, we need here to immediately get rid of any illusions. Control over these territories is of strategic importance for both Ukraine and Russia. Such territories are not returned in negotiations. The only way this option is possible is if the regime changes inside Russia and the new democratic authorities cancel all the Putin regime’s decisions. But at the moment, there are no signs that Russia is approaching a revolutionary situation. Accordingly, there is no hope that the war can be ended by diplomatic means.