A Ukrainian soldier stands guard in a trench in Kherson, which is close to Crimea
A former commander of US Army Europe has suggested that Ukraine will retake the Crimean peninsula from Russia within the next year.
Crimea is the large area off the southern coast of Ukraine which Moscow seized in 2014, giving Russia access to its European neighbour via by the south and the east.
Although Russia did not officially invade the rest of Ukraine until February 2022, for many, the annexation of Crimea is now perceived as the start of the war.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges also told TalkTV that Crimea could end up being the “decisive” piece of the puzzle to help Ukraine win.
Kyiv has long emphasised its plan to retake all of the Ukrainian land Russia has claimed for itself but without the timeframe Hodges suggested.
Russian invasion of Ukraine
He explained: ″They’re [the Russian Forces] able to launch missiles with impunity from Crimea as well as from inside Russia.”
He compared this with the artillery the West has given Ukraine so far, claiming: “We have in effect created sanctuary by limiting what we give to Ukraine to a range of about 90km.”
The West has been reluctant to offer up long-range missiles out of fear that it could provoke Russia and widen the conflit.
TalkTV host Julia Hartley-Brewer then asked: “So for you, this is about Crimea? This is no longer about the Donbas region, that’s a given that the Ukrainians need to retake that land, and, you think, at some point, will retake that land, maybe this year?”
The Donbas region is the eastern Ukrainian area where much of the fighting has taken place in recent months.
Hodges said that he did think Crimea could be under Ukrainian control within a year, adding: “Look, as long as Russia sits on Crimea, Ukraine will never be safe.”
He pointed out that Crimea was a strategic strongpoint for Russia.
He said:“It will use Crimea, as it has done, as a launching pad for the next round of aggression once they wait for us [the West] to lose interest in the region.
“So, they’ll never be safe as long as Russia sits there.
″And also it will be impossible for Ukraine to rebuild its economy, as long as Russia sits there and is able to block or disrupt access in and out of Odessa, and of course, the sea of Azov, the two big ports, Mariupol and Berdyansk.”
There has been an ongoing dispute over grain exports leaving Ukraine since the war began, with Russia blocking ships as they attempt to exit.
“Ukraine will never regain economic viability as long as Russia sits in Crimea – it’s got to be the main effort,” Hodges said.
He also explained this is why the West needs to provide Ukraine with long-range precision weapons, to strike into the heart of Russia. This would supposedly rebalance the advantage Moscow currently has with Crimea.
Most of the war has taken place on Ukrainian soil, with Ukraine acting in self-defence to push Russia out.
In recent months though, Kyiv has shifted its stance and sent the odd drone deep into Russian land, targeting air bases.
Another strike, launched on New Year’s Eve, hit the Russian-held town of Makiivka, part of one of the Ukrainian regions Moscow illegally annexed back in September.
This attack even led Moscow to admit that 89 of its soldiers were killed, although Kyiv said it killed or wounded as many as 400 Russian troops in the same strike.
The Kerch Bridge, which connects Russia to Crimea, was struck back in October, in an attack president Vladimir Putin dubbed a “terrorist act” by Ukraine at the time.
Random explosions did also erupt in Crimea back in August, the first known attacks in the Russian-controlled land.
At the time, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy also revealed in his address that Ukraine still planned to retake the peninsula – although he stopped short of taking responsibility for that particular attack.
“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – its liberation,” he said.