An unexpected event inside Russia involving President Vladimir Putin or his inner circle could enable Ukraine to take back Crimea by the end of the year, the country’s deputy defense minister Volodymyr Havrylov has said.
During a trip to the U.K. to see how Britain is supporting the Ukrainian armed forces, Havrylov was asked by Sky News whether it was “realistic” to retake by January the peninsula Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
He referred to the “Black Swan” theory in which an unexpected event upends previous calculations. “I think Russia can face a ‘Black Swan’ in their country, inside Russia and it can contribute to the success of us with Crimea,” he said.
“We can step in Crimea for example by the end of December,” Havrylov said, which was “possible” and “not excluded.”
When asked what that unforeseen event could be, Havrylov replied, “Putin disappeared for example due to some reason,” which was “physical or political.”
“Or somebody from his circle, something happens, or maybe a combination of a very disillusioned society in terms of their losses,” he added.
Following Ukraine’s liberation of the southern city Kherson, there has been speculation over which areas might be the next focus for Kyiv’s forces.
In October, an attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Russia with the Crimean peninsula resulted in a public relations coup for Kyiv which views it as a symbol of Russian occupation.
Local media in Crimea are reporting that Russians are fleeing to the neighboring Russian region of Krasnodar amid fears that Ukraine will soon move to recapture the region which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to do.
On Friday, the British Ministry of Defense said that Russian units had constructed new trench systems near the border of Crimea, as well as close to the Seversky Donets River between the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ben Hodges, a former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, tweeted on November 12 that U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) “will soon be firing from Kherson” and that “the approaches to Crimea are within range.”
He said that this could “degrade Russian defenses” while the Ukrainian counteroffensive seeks to take the cities of Mariupol and Melitopol “by January. Then begins the decisive phase of the campaign…liberation of Crimea.”
Havrylov told Sky News that Kyiv would only hold negotiations with Moscow when Russian troops were ready to leave all of Ukraine, including Crimea, and ruled out a pause in hostilities because it would allow Russian forces to regroup.
“We have no right to stop, we have to advance,” he said as he outlined how Ukraine had to be prepared for the war taking “some time” if Russia replenished its forces. However, he added “my feeling is that by the end of the spring, this war will (be) over.”
Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.