Ukraine may not be able to reclaim Crimea by force, US says

Secretary of State Antony Blinken claims some of Kyiv’s war aims may only be achieved through diplomacy instead of military action



Ukraine may not be able to retake all Russian-occupied territory by force, the US Secretary of State has suggested, in remarks likely to anger Kyiv.  

The United States is Ukraine’s most important military backer and has pledged to continue its support for “as long as it takes” to defeat the Russian invasion. 

But Antony Blinken told Congress on Thursday that some of Ukraine’s stated war aims might only be possible through diplomacy. 

“I think there’s going to be territory in Ukraine that the Ukrainians are determined to fight for on the ground; there may be territory that they decide that they’ll have to try to get back in other ways,” he said when asked whether the United States backed president Volodymyr Zelensky’s goal of liberating Crimea. 

He added: “These have to be Ukrainian decisions about what they want their future to be and how that lands in terms of the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, the independence of the country.”

“What we don’t want, for everyone’s interests, is to have this settle in a place and in a way that simply invites the Russians to reset, rearm and then re-attack,” he added.

The comments underline unresolved tensions between Ukraine and several of its Western backers over the possible outcome of the war and especially the status of Crimea

Mr Blinken warned Kyiv if it is determined to fight for territory on the ground it could invite the Russians to reset, rearm and then re-attack CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Russia annexed Crimea during its first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine never accepted the annexation but did not attempt to challenge it by force before Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.  

Russia considers Crimea sovereign Russian territory, and some fear the Kremlin may consider an attempt to liberate it sufficiently threatening to warrant the use of nuclear weapons.  

Since September last year, Russia has also claimed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, but has not used its deterrent against Ukrainian forces fighting to liberate them. 

On Friday, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and an ally of Vladimir Putin, said Russia wants to create demilitarised buffer zones inside Ukraine around areas it has annexed.

“We need to achieve all the goals that have been set to protect our territories, that is the territories of the Russian Federation,” Mr Medvedev said in an interview with Russian media posted on Telegram.

We need to “throw out all the foreigners who are there in the broad sense of the word, create a buffer zone which would not allow the use of any types of weapons that work at medium and short distances, that is 70-100 kilometres, to demilitarise it”, he said, adding that Russia would have to push further into Ukraine if such zones were not established.

Russia currently controls just under a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimea.

President Zelensky has repeatedly stated his government’s war aims include the liberation of all occupied territory including Crimea and parts of Donbas occupied since 2014. 

The objective has divided Ukraine’s Western allies. 

crimea bridge
A man takes a selfie in front of an artist’s impression of the Kerch bridge on fire, the only crossing between the occupied Crimean peninsula and Russia CREDIT: Ed Ram/Getty Images

Some believe peace would be impossible without retaking Crimea because Russia would retain both a base from which to attack Ukraine and a motive to do so. 

Capturing it, on the other hand, could deal a decisive and humiliating blow to Vladimir Putin that could force Russia to sue for peace. 

Lt Gen Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army Europe, argued last month that liberating Crimea would be the quickest way to end the war and should be the main objective for Ukraine and its allies.

Others worry retaking it by force would be militarily difficult and risk dangerous escalation because of its strategic and domestic political importance to the Kremlin.  

Chris Stewart, a Republican representative who asked Mr Blinken whether the US backed Ukraine retaking Crimea, said: “My great fear is not a recognition that Crimea is different than the eastern Donbas region.” 

“If our commitment and our agreement with Mr Zelensky is we will support you whatever you want to achieve, including no Russian presence at all in Crimea, then we’re asking for a world of hurt,” he added.

Mr Zelensky has never ruled out returning Crimea via diplomatic rather than military means, and some senior Ukrainian officials have argued the objective could be achieved without fighting. 

Some Ukrainian officials have argued that it may not be necessary to fight for the peninsula. 

Mikhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Mr Zelensky, told The Telegraph last year that a sufficiently punishing Russian defeat elsewhere on the battlefield could lead to Moscow surrendering Crimea peacefully amid an internal political crisis.


  1. Blinken is living in a fantasy land. He appears also to have no shame. His own father was an official witness to the abortion which we now know as The Budapest Memorandum; a document that turned out for Ukraine to be as useful as a fart in a spacesuit, like Minsk 1 and Minsk 2.
    Blinken still does not seem to accept that the kremlin murder gang will not negotiate at all unless its economy is totally crushed and its orcs are being smoked at the rate of 3000/day. Only at that point will the putinazis be in an untenable position.

    • For centuries “Russia” has wanted the Crimea. They even sold Alaska to try to fund the war for Crimea. Then they finally controlled Crimea for a few decades during Soviet rule and now they think it is theirs forever because of a few decades of forced ruling. Worse yet, idiots in the media parrot the falsehood that Crimea is historically Russia. Then idiot politicians parrot it too and the endless circle of disinformation continues. As far as I know, the Crimea has always been fiercely independent.

  2. Selected comments from DT readers :

    Martin Whapshot:
    “The UN Charter must be respected, particularly by Russia, and by whatever means is necessary. If Russia were to resort to nukes as a desperate last resort retaliatory weapon its remaining friends would be very slim indeed. But let’s hope moderate forces are at work behind the scenes ready to decapitate the current imbeciles responsible for this senseless murderous adventure.”

    Max France :
    “Russia seeks 400,000 new recruits as latest Ukraine push stalls.
    The Kremlin has dialed back plans for a further offensive in Ukraine this spring after failing to gain much ground and will focus on blunting a new push by Kyiv’s forces expected to begin soon.”

    John Clayton :
    “It’s time to talk. Time to pause the death and destruction.”

    Reply from Bad Bob:
    “Speak with your boss in the Kremlin, he’s responsible for this mess.”

    Aminul Islam:
    “Russia has already become a laughing stock. China would support it only to a certain extent (to keep it fighting and becoming even weaker),
    A golden chance to do away with a historically evil country once and for all.”

    Si Lo:
    “Ukraine might have to invade and sieze part of Russia to trade it back for crimea while pointing nuclear weapons at Moscow.”

    Lily Blue:
    “No jewels for Vlad because it is Ukrainian not Russian. Fundamental difference. If the French turned up whining that Portsmouth was their jewel you fall about laughing and then see them off.
    Crimea is going to be much easier to reclaim than the territories that border Russia proper.
    It’s recovery is the demonstration of battlefield muscle that will make negotiation happen.
    Rabbiting on about some spurious attachment the Russians have to Crimea is appeasement and I think we need to keep our eye on the ball and arm the Ukrainians to the teeth.”

    Reply from Ivan Callanan:
    “Well said Lily. I don’t care what Blinken says. If Putin gets to keep Crimea, he can say his invasion and the atrocities of the orc militia has been justified. Bullies need to be taught a lesson, that aggression and invasions should not be rewarded.
    Perhaps handing over the Isle of Wight to Hitler would have shortened WW2. No difference. The Russians in Crimea were installed by Putin, just like in the Donbas.”

    Rupert Law:
    “The thing is the Russians have a population advantage of 4 to 1 against Ukraine. To win an attritional war they constantly need to be achieving above this ratio and they have only been doing that in the Bakhmut battle.
    That is why the Ukrainians need to change this war away from an attritional one to a more fluid tank and air focused battle. We’ll have to wait and see weather the west has given enough to allow this to happen.”

    Wensleydale Cheese:
    “Russians have already failed in Bakhmut.
    Huge losses of men and armour for nothing.
    Ukraine has allowed the Russians to break on the anvil of Bakhmut for relatively small losses in comparison to the Russians.
    Meanwhile, the large Ukrainian counter-offensive awaits.”

    Eliot Speed:
    “What about in the thoughts of a free Ukraine fighting for its lands and the safety of it’s people, the dialogue might be to Moscow..
    ‘“We won’t take the Crimea, but you give us Putin and his cronies to stand trial, you pay and help rebuild Ukraine and ultimately go in peace and sort your bloody country out also…”
    “We take the Crimea…”
    And the consequences will be, you face the complete inner deterioration of your country for decades to come not by us but from yourselves and your ‘special mission’ to illegally annex another country.
    But I’m sure the standard Russian sabre rattling is
    “We have nukes”

    Max France:
    “Due to significant losses suffered by the occupiers every day, the enemy decided to increase the number of beds in existing hospitals operating in the temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk region. In particular, in the settlement of Troitske, the number of beds in the military hospital was doubled, from 200 to 400. At the same time, all wounded officers were evacuated to the territory of the Russian Federation by helicopters between March 17 and 18.
    An increase in mortality among wounded invaders was noted in the period from March 17 to 21, due to an increase in the number of severe injuries and poor medical care, in particular due to insufficiently professional medical personnel.
    I commented earlier today that the RF must be suffering from a critical shortage of officers. It seems that they are trying to save as many as they can.”

    • “I commented earlier today that the RF must be suffering from a critical shortage of officers. It seems that they are trying to save as many as they can.”

      Indeed, the cockroaches are suffering from a lack of officers. But, the main thing they are good for is to force their men to attack at gunpoint. As real leaders, the vast majority are completely useless.

  3. What Blinken says is irrelevant. He also thought that Ukraine could never hold back mafia land’s massive invasion force, and that the country would succumb in short order. But, here we are, over a year later, and we’re not only talking about holding back mafia land, but also of reconquering Ukraine’s territories. He’s clearly not a military strategist.
    Crimea is the easiest of all occupied territories to get back. Ukraine must only make the Kerch Bridge impassable, block the isthmus in the north of the peninsula, and keep the rust bucket navy under fire control. Time will do most of the rest. In this respect, the US could do a lot to accelerate this process by finally handing over ATACMS. And then, just sit back, shut up, and watch.

  4. Seeing how many difficulties the ukrainian forces have in Bakhmut, and considering the fact that western military aid is insufficient and always too late, i have my doubts Crimea could be retaken by force. But i’m not a fortune teller. If Ukraine’s army would be upgraded with hundreds of western tanks, Apache helicopters, missiles and planes – the goal could be achieved. So far the support for Ukraine is a joke. So Blinken is correct.

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