The Ukrainian battle for Bakhmut has not been going well for Kyiv, with reportedly high losses and dwindling munitions and other resources in the east, and despite numerous reports of a much anticipated Spring counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces, the talk has shifted from a planned counteroffensive to a need for compromise.
For the first time last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed doubts concerning the battle in Bakhmut. His comments came almost as a preface to soften the blow of a coming announcement of defeat in the eastern city. On Wednesday, it was reported by the Financial Times that Zelensky’s office has said that the president is ready to compromise regarding the Crimean peninsula.
While Ukrainians are still speaking of the conflict as if they are winning the conflict, Andriy Sybiha, the deputy head of Zelensky’s office, has said that Kyiv is willing to discuss the future of the Crimean peninsula with Moscow, should its forces reach the border of the peninsula. The comments are the most blatant expression of Ukraine’s interest in negotiating a peace agreement since it ended peace talks with Russia last April.
“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss the issue,” Sybiha said.
“It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army,” Sybiha added. While the Zelensky government can say that it doesn’t exclude liberating Crimea, it is highly unlikely to happen. Despite pouring an overwhelming amount of manpower, munitions, and equipment into the battle for Bakhmut which is a strategic city in the eastern region of Donetsk, Ukrainian casualties are reportedly very high and the Russian paramilitary group, Wagner, raised both its flag and the Russian flag over the rubble of the city center in Bakhmut last week.
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With many Western leaders doubting Ukraine’s ability to reclaim Crimea, concerns have been mounting that launching a counteroffensive to do so could provoke yet another escalation from Putin, possibly to the point of using nuclear weapons. Given the growing concerns, Sybiha’s comments on Wednesday may have relieved some of the West’s worries. Until this week, Zelensky has refused to negotiate with Moscow until all Russian forces had left Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula.
Sybiha’s comments suggest that Zelensky is reversing his public stance on insisting that every inch of Ukrainian territory be liberated from Russian control and occupation.
While Sybiha’s remarks are the most direct expression of doubt regarding securing Bakmut and the possibility of future negotiations with Moscow, Zelenksy’s recent comments on the future of the war have been very mixed.
On multiple occasions, including as recently as Sunday, Zelensky has noted, “We will return this part of our country not only to the all-Ukrainian space, but also to the all-European space.”
Meanwhile, Western leaders have been expressing doubt that Kyiv can recapture Crimea with Rear Admiral Tim Woods, the British defense attaché in Washington, saying on Wednesday that Crimea would require “a political solution because of just the concentration of force that is there and what it would mean for the Ukrainians to go in there.”
“I don’t think there’s going to be a very quick military solution…hence we need to see what are favorable conditions for Ukraine to negotiate and I think Ukraine would be up for that,” Woods added.
As for Russia, Crimea will not be on the negotiating table, but Ukraine’s eastern territories likely will be. It is likely that the Kremlin will want recognition of the eastern oblasts as part of any peace accord, given that in September, Putin signed “accession treaties” declaring that Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and Donetsk are now part of the Russian Federation.
While it is unlikely that Zelensky will be willing to allow Russia to claim 4 regions of Ukraine, his potential willingness to let go of Crimea could move things forward a little with Moscow in terms of negotiating.
Despite Ukraine consistently losing ground in Bakhmut, the U.S. has shown little if any interest in Kyiv coming to a peace agreement with Moscow if Ukraine is required to cede territory to Putin to achieve a settlement.
As the war continues with no sign of slowing down, Zelensky appears to have become more pessimistic in recent weeks noting last week that if Russia captures Bakhmut, then Putin will smell weakness saying that Putin would “sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran” as leverage to push for a peace agreement that would require Ukraine to give up some of its territory.
“If he will feel some blood – smell that we are weak – he will push, push, push,” Zelensky added, referring to Putin.
If Putin takes Bakhmut, “Our society will feel tired. Our society will push me to have compromise with them,” Zelensky said. The Ukrainian president understands the devastating consequences his country faces if Ukraine were to lose the vital funding and military aid it has been receiving from Europe and the U.S. Zelensky also understands the importance of holding Bakhmut saying, “The loss of Bakhmut would mean a political defeat, could lead to a general defeat in conflict.”
- Russia Threatens “Countermeasures” – U.S. Drone Flight Paths Moved Further Away From Crimea
- Zelensky: Ukraine Preparing To Launch Attack To Recapture Crimea