Without Crimea, Ukraine will never win

There is no victory for Kyiv – or Nato – unless we give the Ukrainians the tools to seize back the peninsula

Ben Hodges

26 January 2023 • 7:32pm

The Ukrainian General Staff have set an amazing example for military planners in Europe. Their activities are methodical, professional and disciplined. Their understanding of operational design on the battlefield, and operational security, has never been matched by the Russians. So we can safely conclude that, with the right weapons, Ukraine can prevent a major Russian breakthrough just about anywhere on the battlefield. But more than that, Ukraine can retake Crimea this year.

Currently, Kyiv appears to be building up an armoured force, division-size or larger, that is prepared to serve as the breakthrough formation for the next major offensive phase of the campaign. I’d anticipate it will be at least two months, more likely three, before they are able to do that. It will be built mostly around Ukrainian armour that they already possess or which they have captured.

Of course, Western tanks will provide an added lethal edge, even if the numbers promised are well below what was requested. But Zelensky has now moved his attention to long-range precision missiles, which he knows will be decisive in the effort to liberate Crimea. They can be used to isolate the peninsula, allowing his forces to then attack exposed Russian facilities.

This is where Western strategy meets its biggest problem, since we haven’t yet decided whether to support Zelensky’s policy on Crimea in the first place. The answer should be obvious, because without retaking Crimea it is virtually impossible for Ukraine to win this war. For as long as Putin has a foothold in Ukrainian territory he will always be able to manipulate Ukraine’s society and economy. Put simply, do we want Ukraine to win or not?

Regrettably, Pentagon officials, such as Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defence for policy, seem conflicted. They ought to be reminded that Ukraine has already shown its ability to isolate Crimea in a disciplined fashion.

For instance, the best known Russian landline of communication (LOC) in Crimea, which goes over the Kerch Bridge, was severely damaged months ago and won’t be fully repaired before the spring. I expect the Ukrainians will attempt to ensure it is never fully repaired. And the other major land LOC – the so-called “land bridge” between Crimea and Rostov – is also being targeted by Ukrainian forces.

These are the only two land LOCs which connect Crimea to Russia. Both are demonstrably vulnerable. Ukraine can easily destroy them in weeks, but only if we send our most sophisticated long-range missiles.

We can easily supply an Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), for example, which would vastly improve the ability of Ukrainian forces to strike the Russian land bridge, hitting river crossings, logistics hubs, rail connections, headquarters, troop concentrations and ammunition storage sites. Such missiles can be supplemented by Gray Eagle armed drones and ground-launched Small Diameter Bombs (SDB).

Then there is the ability to strike vulnerable targets on the Crimean peninsula, including the Russian navy base at Sevastopol, the major logistics hub at Dzhankoy and the airbase at Saky. And, of course, the same missiles will guarantee that Russia can never rebuild Kerch Bridge.

But Colin Kahl has said that sending the ATACMS is a “juice [that] isn’t really worth the squeeze”. This is the same pessimistic approach that delayed the sending of other key equipment, such as Patriot systems, several months ago. It is also the approach originally taken to sending Abrams tanks, which was thankfully reversed yesterday. Time and again, the pessimism of the Pentagon has been mistaken, and yet it continues.

If we really cannot send the long-range missiles Zelensky needs, we make an awful statement of intent: that we do not believe Crimea is up for the taking. And that, I fear, would render all Western support redundant. In the aftermath of 2014, the West stated that Crimea is Ukrainian but failed to do enough to prevent a full-scale Putin invasion. We have a duty now to put it right because, for all the nice rhetoric from Western leaders, there is no victory for Kyiv – or Nato – without the liberation of Crimea. 

Lieutenant General (Retired) Ben Hodges is the former commander of US Army Europe


  1. Selected comments from DT readers :

    Andrew Dale:
    “To the people whose knees knock every time a Russian TV Putin puppet threatens (yet again) to nuke the west I say this. Capitulate then.
    Will you also capitulate to the coming Iranian mullah bomb?
    How about fat Kim and his cartoon ‘necrocracy’ bomb. Are you going to have a knee trembler over that too?”

    Reply from Damien Edwards:
    “Precisely. Truth is, we should have been two feet into this war from the moment weasel-face sent his first boot across the border. As soon shorty sent his forces into Ukraine, we should have sent a massive bombing raid to Moscow, and called his bluff. The squirt is a coward, he would have backed down fast.”

    For the benefit of Mr Kite:
    “We need to give Ukraine the firepower, range, lethality to recover its territory, Russia simply must be stopped through force and determination (which the Ukraine’s have shown again and again).
    Unleased their potential, we need to give them more combined arms capability,
    F16, Apache AH64, Cruise Missiles, ATACMS, decimate any Russian counter offence capability and then smash them in-situ and pulverise command & control, logistical supply lines.
    The choice should be easier for Putin then :
    1) Leave Ukraine immediately and remove your forces.
    2) Your forces wither and die in the illegally annexed Ukraine territory.”

    A kremtroll calling itself “Stuart Williams” writes: “Another wretched article by wretched ex top brass whom frankly we are sick to death of. These creatures don’t want the war to end, just like the Covid lot who once infested the media day after day, this paper especially. Hodges is woke and globalist and brain dead. Go away you silly man. Be off with you. You turn our stomachs with your vile talk and venom.”

    Reply from Mark West:
    “Another wretched and oh so obvious Russian troll, who wants Russia to get a free ride murdering and raping its way over Ukraine without any Ukrainian fightback.”

    Howard Stollery:
    “Hodges is right. As is Zelensky. Long range missiles are the key. if you read General of the (Russian) Army, Valery Gerasimov’s Jan-Feb 2016 paper in the Military Review, given the performance of the professional army, resort to missiles hitting targets all over Ukraine is a way of winning in unconventional, or new forms of warfare, while not winning with Russia’s conventional land forces at least for now.
    Here is a summary quote “ The very “rules of war have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.” The paper is helpful in understanding the thinking of the Russian general in charge of the Ukraine venture.
    The American leadership does not want to lose the war during Mr Biden’s first term, but it cannot be said that in Biden’s first term there is much urgency to win it. Meanwhile, the country is being damaged to the point that it won’t be too long before the war has been won by mass destruction, while Russia’s conventional forces are playing a somewhat secondary role.
    Read the penultimate para and think about it. The big question is if and when the American government is going to let the long range missiles fly before it is too late. The odds are, given the total lack of response to the mass destruction campaign as the Ukrainian population has to do without electricity and the rest, is that it may well be too late to win if that means having to rebuild cities, towns and villages all over the country sfter the population has fled.”

    Peter Jenkins:
    “Well said Ben Hodges. This lack of backbone from the Pentagon does not bode well especially when taken with the wobbly Herr Scholz. Please can we take note of previous mis-steps such as doing nothing when Hitler occupied the Rhineland? A swift move by the much larger French Army would have sent the German Army scuttling back to barracks and might even have led to Hitler being ousted for his lack of judgement. All at very little cost in either blood or treasure. Roll the clock forward a couple of years and the genie was out of the bottle.
    The West must make up its mind to give Ukraine all the conventional weapons it needs on the clear understanding that they do not go past Ukraine’s pre-2014 border. That will leave Putin without a reason to escalate to a nuclear war and also leave him to face the music of a failed endeavour of which he was the sole architect.”

    Reply from Malcolm Scoggins:
    “Good comment, Peter. But we need to be cautious about ‘cannot go past 2014 boundaries’.
    Putin will bombard Ukraine endlessly from just inside Russia. There needs to be a 200km demilitarised zone.”

    • Many of those readers also has more foresight and common sense than what can be found in all the Western governments. They also are not fearful of the short monkey’s constant nuke threats. Why is that? Why does the collective West have only sackless pussies in high places???

  2. Gen Hodges has been a consistent supporter of Ukraine. Bring him out of retirement, sack Milley and replace him with Hodges, who has integrity, a backbone and military nouse.

  3. “But Zelensky has now moved his attention to long-range precision missiles, which he knows will be decisive in the effort to liberate Crimea.”

    So, here we go again. The next game of :
    No, you can’t have this.
    Well, we’ll think about it.
    You might get them.
    We will soon make a decision.
    In the coming days, a decision will be made.
    Have patience, the technical, training, and logistic details are being worked out.
    Okay, you can have them. It will be three to four months.
    In the meantime, Ukrainians are being killed, murdered, raped, tortured, their apartments and school destroyed, their hospitals and infrastructure. The grain shipments stopped or slowed down.
    It’s so totally sickening! We have no real leaders in the free world. We have only stupid cowards. They should be selling hot dogs or shine shoes, but not be in politics. We will be totally fucked when China has a go at it, militarily speaking.

    • Biden’s constant dithering is giving putler the time to augment, regroup, consolidate and prepare for multiple attacks. The way it appears at the moment is that Ukraine must win, must win big and it’s got to be before summer kicks in.
      It looks as if Biden will run again, but if he decides to step down or is forced to, he will likely endorse a candidate with a similar position as him regarding putler. Either way, the focus will start to switch to the election campaign.
      As for the GOP, there seems to be little or no sign of them selecting a candidate with integrity such as Lindsay Graham or Marco Rubio and Ukraine could be in the awful position of having a potential US president who is either indifferent or pro-putler.
      Trump will campaign on a pro-putler ticket disguised as “only I can bring peace.” DiSantis will campaign on a “I don’t give a shit and anyway it’s all Biden’s fault” platform.

      • For many reasons, we can only hope that this war will be over (and won) by before the next presidential elections.

      • Sir Scradgel I know we have a difference of opinion but I wouldn’t proclaim the GOP as pro the scum bag. From what I see there are about a dozen congressmen out of 220 GOP congressmen and a like number of GOP senators out of 48. Everything I’m seeing, there is and continues to be wide support 71% of the US population in favor of supporting Ukraine. As for Trump his appeal in the US is dropping quickly and he is no longer as appealing or popular as before having his polling dropping down to 38% as compared to DeSantis at 34%. I wish Trump would just shut the fuck up, go fuck himself and drop dead (never been one to wish death on someone but this war has changed my view). DeSantis has not presented an opinion on Ukraine which seems to be consistent with his position of not taking strong views on any foreign policy. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t get a definitive statement from his office only that they are concentrating on Florida.

        In summary Sir Scradgel you and I agree on most everything, I just don’t believe the GOP is as negative on Ukraine as you may believe instead believe there are elements (with big mouths) in both parties who are negative but I can’t see more then some elements.

        Respectfully and IMHO

        • “but I wouldn’t proclaim the GOP as pro the scum bag.”
          Neither would I. And neither have I.

          Republican support for US aiding Ukraine’s war effort against Russia is declining:


          A Republican strategist said on bbc radio that they believed that 5% of GOP voters actually want victory for Russia. Sounds like not a lot but that’s 3-4 million assholes. No doubt all are fans of the Fox News in-house putinoid scum : Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
          In Congress and the Senate, the percentage of Republicans who want a putler victory probably reflects that of the GOP voters. Then there is another rotten bloc of uncaring people who advocate “no blank checks”, coming at a time when support needs to be open-ended.
          I support the GOP and want a conservative like Graham or Rubio in charge. But Ukraine would be better off with Biden than Trump or DiSantis, the current front runners. Both would be lethal for Ukraine. Re the latter, the avoidance of the crucial topic of Ukraine tells you all you need to know about the asshole.
          My differences with you are not about opinions; everyone has the right to their own view. What I disliked was your unjustifiable insults that were bordering on abuse.

  4. Whether or not Crimea is returned to the Ukraine, Ukraine will require F-16s or other fighters and long range missiles for self defense. These must be provided as attacks on civilians will surely continue without them.

    Whether the Ukrainians want a negotiated settlement is for Ukrainians to decide.

    If the choice were mine between allowing the rape of children by Russian solders or dying in a nuclear war, I’d greatly prefer the latter. It’s best to die with dignity and that fact will never change.

  5. I do think the U.S. had made a decision.
    With the Kharkiv offensive, the equipment they got was tailormade for this offensive and prepared in advance for months.

    I think the Europeans do not have a plan, but I think the U.S. does.

    I think the plan is as such: the Pentagon wants Ukraine to recapture the Zaporizia region and after that Crimea.

    I think there are multiple signs:
    1) about the ATACMS: before the offensive Austin did not say they will not be provided, but Ukraine doesn’t need them at this point. That was correct as for the Kharkiv and Kherson offensives the HIMARS had enough range.
    I am not saying that Biden wasn’t worrying about escalation, but I think the Pentagon wasn’t pushing hard for it because the offensives did not require long range missiles.

    2) Biden now says that nothing is off the table, including long range missiles and fighter jets.
    I think these are both vital for softening up Crimea after Zaporizia is recaptured and the Kerch Bridge destroyed.

    3) Soon Ukraine will get the missiles made by Boeing that have more than 150km of range, which can reach any point in the Zaporizia region and can reach far enough to have the small gap to Crimea under fire control.

    4) There were some public statements about Crimea and some rumours about the U.S. pressuring Ukraine for an offensive in the Zaporizia region.

    5) Ukraine now gets Bradley armoured vehicles which are perfect for an offensive in the Zaporizia region along tanks.

    6) The U.S. has pushed hard for the delivery of Leopard tanks as they can be fielded most quickly. The U.S. doesn’t like sending Abrams as U.S. army tanks have classified armour that export versions do not have, so they will be manufacturing new ones that lack this classified depleted uranium armour and are probably a bit simpler to maintain.

    This costs some months and would be too late for a spring offensive, so they need Leopards / Challengers until the Abrams are there.

    The Abrams are probably only on time for the Crimea offensive, not for the offensive in the Zaporizia region.

    I also think the acquisition of Abram tanks is not something Biden decided recently, but I think he waited with announcing them fearing that the Europeans would not consider it necessary to send tanks themselves. Also developing a Ukrainian version of the Abram may have taken some months.

    I think the idea was to field Bradley’s and Leopards for the spring offensive in Zaporizia.

    I think there is a plan, as the arms deliveries of the U.S. do not seem random.

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