As Ukrainian forces gain momentum and push Russia’s military to retreat from territory stolen during the war in Ukraine this year, Moscow is working to signal that some territory it took from Ukraine is off limits.
Russia’s Governor for Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said Friday that Russia is working to fortify its defenses in Crimea, the peninsula Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as fears mount that Ukrainian authorities may have their sights set on seizing it back.
“The security of the Republic of Crimea and its inhabitants is ensured through measures taken on behalf of our President,” Aksyonov said. “The joint work of the authorities, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and law enforcement agencies is aimed at ensuring that the Crimeans can feel calm.”
Despite Aksyonov’s insistence calm will reign in Crimea, civilians in Crimea have reportedly begun reading between the lines and fleeing as fears mount that Ukraine might be serious about taking Crimea back, according to Emil Ibragimov, the head of the educational platform Q-Hub. Ibragimov told Radio NV that people are fleeing to the Russian region of Krasnodar to avoid any fallout, according to Newsweek.
“That is, we see this trend and can conclude that this is, of course, panic and fear that the [Ukraine] Armed Forces will be able to liberate Crimea in the near future,” Ibragimov said.
Aksyonov’s attempt to craft the narrative that Crimea will hold comes at a time when Russia’s plan to take over Ukraine seems shakier than ever. Increasingly, Russian officials are questioning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s judgment and war plans. Ukrainian forces’ counteroffensives throughout Ukraine have forced Russia to retreat from multiple pockets it had seized during the conflict this year. Earlier this month, Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops from Kherson—a key city which was Russia’s last stronghold west of the Dnieper River—which Ukrainian officials view as a precursor to taking Crimea back.
Kherson lies just north of Crimea, and the defeat there represents a major setback to Putin’s dream of creating a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, as well as supplying further incursions into Ukrainian territory.
The loss of Kherson also signals to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration that it may be time to go after Crimea and kick Russia out, The Daily Beast has learned. The official in charge of taking Crimea back from Russia in Zelensky’s administration, Tamila Tasheva, told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview early this month that seizing back Kherson is a precursor to taking back Crimea, and that the Zelensky administration is increasingly eyeing the military component of kicking Russia out.
“We understand it’s really connected—deoccupation of Crimea—connected to the situation in the battlefield, in the southern part of Ukraine, especially deoccupation of Kherson,” Tasheva told The Daily Beast.
And while diplomacy is key to taking back Crimea, “we also [talk] about another mechanism of deoccupation including, of course, military components of deoccupation,” Tasheva added.
Zelensky said in an interview…