Russia has said it will under no circumstances consider handing back the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014 following a pro-Western coup in Kyiv. Sergei Tsekov, the Russian senator for occupied Crimea, said the peninsula will “never return” to Ukraine and described recent comments by a senior Ukrainian official that they would be willing to hold negotiations over the land mass as “complete nonsense”.
Tsekov said: “We don’t even want to talk about it. Some complete nonsense.
“Noone will discuss ‘diplomatic’ methods of transferring Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. Crimea will never return to Ukraine.”
He was responding to comments by Andriy Sybiha, an adviser to Mr Zelensky, who told the Financial Times that Ukraine would be “ready to open a diplomatic” discussion over the future of Crimea following a successful wave of spring counter offensives.
The comments amounted to the most explicit statement of Ukrainian intentions after months of the Presidential Office maintaining that peace negotiations were off the table.
Mr Zelensky has said the recapturing of Crimea is imperative to any future negotiations with Russia, as well as the total withdrawal of Putin’s forces from mainland Ukraine.
But Mr Sybiha, who is a veteran diplomat focusing on foreign policy, and who has been at the President’s side for key moments throughout the war, appears to have cast this position into question.
“If we succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” Mr Sybiha said.
He added, however, that such sentiment does not mean that they “exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army”.
As fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine remains concentrated in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, conversations about Crimea have not been prevalent in the last few months.
During this time, Russian forces have been heavily fortifying the land corridor, about 100 miles in length, between the Ukrainian-held southern city of Kherson and the Crimean peninsula.
Prior to the expected spring counter offensive , it is unclear whether Western nations will support Ukraine in an attempt to retake the peninsula, as officials fear that such a move would risk Putin utilising his nuclear arsenal.
The value of Crimea to Russia is significant – the swift annexation in 2014 is evidence of this – as it contains the port of Sevastopol, Putin’s only access to a warm water port and where his infamous Black Sea Fleet is stationed.
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Sevastopol allows Russia to export goods across the globe via sea channels all year round – no other port in its possession permits them to do this as their other exit routes are subject to frozen waters for at least a third of the year. This fact is equally important for Russia’s ability to maintain a mobile Navy force.
Such significance to Russia is the reason why Western officials appear to be nervous about backing a Ukrainian attempt to retake the peninsula.
In 2014, when Putin annexed the region, this sentiment prevailed as NATO nations refrained from taking action against the move, opting instead to settle for the Westernisation of the Ukrainian capital and its government.
But the New York Times reported in January that US officials were warming to the idea that Kyiv may “need the power to strike the Russian sanctuary, even if such a move increases the risk of escalation”.
To not support the retaking of Crimea, it was implied, would risk another Russian attempt to invade Ukraine in subsequent years.
It is also worth nothing that Russia’s long-range missile campaigns ostensibly against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, but which has led to the death of thousands of civilians hundreds of miles from the frontlines, is conducted from warships that operate out of Sevastopol.
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