Ukraine can retake Crimea within months, if we let it


Ukraine can retake Crimea within months, if we let it

There is no need for a diplomatic solution. Russia’s war could soon be brought to a humiliating end

Ben Hodges

21 April 2023 • 5:59pm

Some Western politicians believe it is impossible, or perhaps undesirable, for Ukraine to retake Crimea, and are instead chasing a false peace whereby Kyiv agrees to keep the peninsula in a grey zone. They may even want the status quo, with Crimea remaining under complete Russian control. Such politicians do not understand military strategy and cannot read a map.

Underlying this problem is the fact that our leaders have not yet established whether they genuinely want Ukraine to win. If they did, there would be no question that Ukrainian forces should be supported this summer in their endeavour to take back Crimea, which would lead to the total collapse of Russia’s campaign.

No amount of political sophistry will change the fact that Crimea is the decisive terrain in this war. You can kill many hundreds of Russians on the outskirts of Bakhmut and have little strategic effect. But if you remove hundreds from Sevastopol, the Russian navy base in Crimea, you will have changed the course of history and effectively ended the war.

In recent months I have pushed a three-point plan to do just that. The first task – isolating Crimea – can be achieved imminently with a successful Ukrainian offensive beginning this summer. Kyiv’s forces can easily break the Russian-occupied land bridge.

The second task is to make Crimea untenable for Russian forces. This can be done with long-range precision missiles provided by the West, which can target the Sevastopol navy base and the dozen or so other bases at places like Saky, and the logistics hub at Dzhankoi, and the main Russian headquarters at Heniches’k. The final task would be to liberate Crimea itself, occupy the peninsula and complete the destruction of the Kerch Bridge connecting it to Russia.

The Ukrainians have the will, manpower and military competency to do all of this. Western politicians just need to agree that this is the quickest way to end the war and give Ukraine the weapons it needs.

There is no need to travel the world looking for a “diplomatic solution” – which has come to mean a division of Ukrainian land – when this much simpler solution is ready for the taking. In a matter of months, not years, it would bring peace. The Russian navy would lose its greatest hub, and Putin and his evil aides in the Kremlin would be humbled to such an extent that their administration would fall into deep peril. Is this not a better path for the rules-based international order?

The Russian people themselves are losing the will to defend Crimea. It used to be said that even Russian leaders we liked – those, like Alexei Navalny, who stood up to Putin’s oppressive rule – believed Crimea deserved to be annexed. For a long time, Navalny refused to publicly support the immediate return of Crimea to Ukraine. Yet the failure of Putin’s full-scale invasion has changed matters. In February, the Russian dissident published a 15-point plan outlining his vision for post-war Russia. It states that Ukraine’s borders should be those “recognised and defined in 1991” – which include Crimea.

The same shift can be observed in broader society. Putin’s annexation of Crimea was extremely popular when it was easy and bloodless. Less so when Russian lives are at stake. Remember the sight of vacationers fleeing the peninsular as soon as the first rockets hit? They showed no attachment to that supposedly “sacred” land.

Russia is not what it once was, having lost confidence and military esteem. Its last hope is to wait desperately for political winds to change in the West. Are we going to give it that opening? Or shall we finally send a message to the world that Europe will be defended? 

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


  1. If the allies had waged war in a way that reflects the thinking of some of today’s politicians, we would never have won either WWI nor WWII, nor saved South Korea.

    • Selected comments from DT readers:
      Ralf Johns: All those deluded commentators and politicians that think this has some sort of peace settlement are deluded. You cannot believe a word that comes out of these authoritarian regimes. You only need to look at the Chinese to know this is true more generally and nothing Russia has said about this WAR has been true.
It’s scandalous that we only give Ukraine defensive weapons while Russia pounds Ukrainian cities out of existence. The thought ghat Russia will ever play by any rules is delusional.
      An asshole writes :
Alan Crofts: The US strategy is to hold Russia in a attritional war with the Ukraine as long as possible – to use up Russian equipment and manpower and so compromise its ability to fight conventionally. This way the US goals are met without direct confrontation with Russian forces. Unfortunately for Ukraine it means they will only receive defensive weapons and not western fighter aircraft or many more tanks. This is the US being typically ruthless in these matters and China should take note.
The fact is that both sides in the war are as brutal and corrupt as each other. It is right for the west to provide defensive weapons but not to provoke and increasingly desperate Putin to use nuclear weapons. I for one do not want to burn for a few godforsaken square miles of eastern europe.
      Another fucking asshole:
Free French: Who is this clown? Starting WW111 is not a good plan. If the West give long range high precision missiles to Ukraine and encourage (ie actually directly assist) Ukraine to use them, then the final world war will start forthwith.
A negotiate peace that gives Russia and the Russian-orientated parts of what was previously Ukraine long-term security is the sensible policy the West should be following. Then we can all get back to trading and improving the world.
      Brian Corbett: Once the Ukrainians reach the Sea of Azov, it’s thank you and goodnight for the Russian forces in the west, and in Crimea. It just depends how long Putin is prepared to let them stay there without basic supplies and ammunition.
      Yet another asshole:
William Stewart: I live in the US and many ex-military men, CIA officers and diplomats are questioning the official narrative that Ukraine is winning, Newsweek is claiming that Bakhmut is surrounded and about to fall. They believe that Russia is now poised to take full advantage once dry summer weather arrives. Ukraine concentrated many of its best equipped and best trained troops in Bakhmut where they were pounded for months by Russian artillery, missiles, and drones. In the battle for Bakhmut, Ukraine lost thousands of experienced troops who cannot be replaced by conscripts with a few weeks of accelerated training.
      Scott Driver: As to retaking Crimea, all the Ukrainians have to do is follow the Kherson city model and lay siege to the place: basically starve the Russians out of the place by removing the Kerch bridge, cut off the Orcs land bridge in Southern Ukraine while blocking water to the Crimea from the Dnieper river.
Following the aforementioned strategy would result in too little food, water and ammunition flowing into Crimea and literally force the Orcs to withdraw as occurred with Kherson city.
      James Buchan: Melitopol, Tavriisk and Kerch.
These areas are going to be critical. If they can get the first two and block off the bridge then ultimately Russia cannot resupply via the bridge and cannot get water.
Ukrainian missiles come into range of Crimea and the BSF.
If, and it is a big if, they can stop RuAF attacks the Leo/Abrams/Chally tank forces should be able to defeat T-55/64/72/80/90 and Armatas. Ukrainian forces are better trained, especially in combined arms so should be able to make their better equipment count.
It won’t be easy but it should be do-able.
      Scott Driver: Couple of trolls posting below that Crimea belongs to Orclandia, which it doesn’t. The issue of Crimea is far more complex, and any vote of Crimea’s inhabitants needs to be minus Russians that have illegally settled in Crimea since 2014.
Crimea also has NOT historically been part of Russia. Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and the Tartars themselves all have historic claims to the place. Similar to Ukraine’s Donbas, the Russians killed off Crimea’s native Tartars or deported them to Siberia, and transplanted them with Russians forced to relocate.
Crimea has been part of Ukraine for the past 60 years when Russia handed Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Russia only took Crimea through force in 1783. Before that others such as Turkey/Ottoman Empire had Crimea under their control and before that, numerous others.
      Reply to Scott from Ian Parker: Crimea was also independent from 1921 to 1945 (minus a couple of years of German Occupation) Stalin then reclaimed it for Russia, 9 years later it became part of Ukraine.
So in the last century
It was independent for 20 years
Occupied by Germany for 2 years
Russian for 9 years
Ukrainian for 60 years
Illegally occupied by Russia for 8 years.
Crimea can no longer be considered historically Russia, not only that the population of Crimea do not want to be part of Russia as pre 2014 polls show.
The last independent poll was conducted in May 2013 just 9 months before Putin’s illegal annexation.
The poll asked this crucial and revealing question.
In your opinion, what should the status of Crimea be?
Autonomy in Ukraine (as today) 53% +4%
Crimean Tatar autonomy within Ukraine 12% +8%
Common oblast of Ukraine 2% -4%
Crimea should be separated and given to Russia 23% -10%
Do not know/answer 8% +2%
Difference is from October 2011 poll that asked the same question.
So only 23% of Crimean Citizens/residents wanted to be part of Russia just 9 months before the illegal annexation, more to the point this had dropped by 10% in the previous 18months.
      Scott Driver: Let’s continue to help Ukraine finish the job. Sleepy Joe, when are you going to send the F16s??!! since the 2 Ukrainian test subject pilots learned the aircraft’s basics in less than 6 months.
How about your sending ATACMS missiles that would utterly devastate the Russians in Crimea?, the topic of this article.
      M. Bilewycz: A good article by General Hodges.
Russia has used too much of its combat resources to take a town of little strategic value.
A well executed Ukrainian offensive would leave Russia with little to answer with, as happened with Kherson.
Only this time Ukraine would be using Western tanks in addition to everything else.
Presented with an isolated Crimea ordinary Russians there will do the rest and surrender.

      • Thanks for all the interesting comments, Scradge. As usual, they were enlightening as well as a pleasure to read … except the troll ones. 😉

        • Here are a few more good ones facts:

          Walter Blake: Would any of the world’s leaders cede one square centimetre to anybody?
          Trump claims that he could solve the Ukrainian question ,how much of Alaska would he give back to Russia or even sell? If Crimea has been recognised as being part of Ukraine then that is what it is.
          If Xi ping wants to put his penny worth in then he might consider getting out of Tibet first , stop his aggression on the Indian border and in Nepal and cease his illegitimate claims on the South China Sea , instead of aggression regarding Taiwan try persuasion.

          William Blaney: Very good article.
          Exposes the cynicism of western and NATO leaders.
          We want the destruction of Russian conventional forces at no cost to us militarily. We will bear the economic cost.
          The success of Ukraine in recovering their land is secondary to the above and related to economics and geo political decisions as to what is best for us.
          The Ukrainians will be subjected to a great deal of Western, deviousness as this continues, as the Wests best interests are defined.
          We should stop playing games; an all out Ukrainian conventional victory should be the overriding objective.

          Bri Seage: It’s up to Ukraine but we must give them all the ammunition and weapons they ask for. The end game must be total defeat of Russia so that no Russian weapons or troops remain within the internationally recognised borders of Ukraine. Victory to Ukraine.

          J Ward: What we have now from so many countries is virtual appeasement in that they are lukewarm in supporting Ukraine. Remember Ursula vdL, when defence minister of Germany, stating that they could not spend 2% of GDP on defence as ‘it would offend Russia’. With that attitude what can you expect. What I am sure of is that the longer the war goes on the more likelihood of WW3 – arm Ukraine properly now and finish the war. It would be perfectly proper for Ukraine to target Russian naval bases in Crimea; Russia has unlawfully targetted both civilians and hospitals in Ukraine.

          James Stacey: Ukraine has a chance at Crimea, if Ukraine wasn’t being restrained by idiots in EU who are probably influenced by Russian propaganda they would have a good go, Crimea is very vulnerable. Blow up the bridge, split the land bridge, stop the water from the mainland. Good luck and god speed Ukraine.
          Russia has become the new Third Reich (except far more useless luckily) the quicker Ukraine wins the quicker we can have peace.

          Henry Sunday : Imperative to absolutely and completely humiliate Putin and his side kick Medvedev. And once the mighty Ukrainians have completely destroyed the Russian “army”, the world must keep the economic sanctions noose around Russia’s neck and squeeze the lifeblood out of the country until the Russian people rise up and swing Putin and Medvedev and all their cronies from lampposts in Red Square.

          • “Trump claims that he could solve the Ukrainian question ,how much of Alaska would he give back to Russia or even sell?”

            Bad example – Trump would happily give it all away, if it benefited him personally.

  2. Pentagon Speeds Up Tank Timeline for Ukraine

    The U.S. will begin training Ukrainian troops on M1 Abrams tanks in the next few weeks, officials said, and combat-ready tanks could reach the battlefields by the fall.

    Ukrainian troops will begin training on American M1 Abrams tanks in Germany in the next few weeks, U.S. defense officials say, in what would be a major step in arming Kyiv as it seeks to seize back territory from Russia.

    Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced the timeline on Friday during a meeting with allies at Ramstein Air Base. Defense officials said that about 31 tanks were expected to arrive in Germany to begin a training program for Ukrainian troops that is expected to take 10 weeks. Combat-ready tanks could reach the battlefields in Ukraine by the fall, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.
    American defense officials had initially said that the M1 Abrams tanks would not arrive in Ukraine until next year. But since January, when the Biden administration announced that it would send the tanks, senior defense officials have said they wanted to accelerate the plans.

    The Ukrainian troops training on the Abrams tanks will have to go through qualification testing, maintenance training and drills on how to operate the advanced battle tank. They also will have to learn how to coordinate tank maneuvers with other military units, in what the American military calls “combined arms” tactics.

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