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Russia braces for Ukraine to attack Crimea following liberation of Kherson

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 18/11/2022 Joel Gehrke
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Russian troops are reinforcing their position in Crimea in anticipation of attacks from Ukraine, a Russia-installed regional official admitted.

“Fortification works aimed at guaranteeing Crimeans’ security are being conducted under my supervision,” Russia’s regional governor of the annexed peninsula, Sergei Aksyonov, said Friday.

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The prospect of a showdown over Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 in the clandestine operation that began the war, has loomed into view due to a series of Ukrainian successes in a counteroffensive conducted this fall. Russia’s retreat from the west bank of the Dnieper River not only freed the key city of Kherson but allowed Ukrainian artillery forces to advance into range of the vital peninsula.

“The security of the Republic of Crimea and its inhabitants is ensured through measures taken on behalf of our President,” Aksyonov wrote on social media, per an unofficial translation. “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.”

Russia retains control of the east bank of the Dnieper River, leaving a buffer between Ukrainian forces and the isthmus that links Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland. Yet the persistent Russian struggles in protecting supply lines could be exacerbated by the approach of Ukrainian artillery — especially their HIMARS, the ground-to-ground multiple rocket launch systems provided by the United States.

“The limited number of high-quality roads and railways in this area, particularly connecting Crimea to the mainland, creates potential bottlenecks that could be vulnerable to Ukrainian interdiction efforts that would gradually degrade the Russian ability to continue supplying its grouping in eastern Kherson Oblast and other areas of southern Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War wrote in a Thursday evening overview of battlefield developments.

Ukraine executed a similar operation on the west bank of the Dnieper, one that forced the withdrawal of a major Russian force that was taking gradual casualties and running out of equipment. “Ukrainian forces will likely find it harder to achieve such dramatic effects in eastern Kherson but may be able to disrupt Russian efforts to solidify and hold their new defensive lines,” ISW added.

A similar effort could be in store for the Russian forces holding Crimea writ large. If Ukraine can cut the landlines between the peninsula and the other Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, then the only land route linking Russia to Crimea will be the Kerch Strait bridge, which has already proven vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.

“When Ukrainians clean up Kherson on the right bank, they will be able to pull the HIMARS there and destroy Russian logistics and fortifications closer to the Crimean Peninsula," retired U.S. Army Gen. Ben Hodges said in a recent interview with Ukrainian media republished by the War Translated project. “Crimea — is the prize. And I believe that Crimea will be liberated by the end of next summer. By that time, Ukrainians will push back Russian forces and destroy Russian logistics.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to enervate Ukrainian operations by launching a blistering campaign of attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in a bid to deprive the Ukrainian civilian population of electricity and other utilities.

"The unwillingness of the Ukrainian side to settle the problem, to start negotiations, its refusal to seek common ground, this is their consequence,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Leskov said Thursday. “The special military operation is continuing, it does not depend on weather conditions.”

Putin has signaled an interest in striking a ceasefire following the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insists that any end to the fighting must include the removal of all Russian troops from Ukraine. U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signaled last week his own hope that Zelensky would begin talks, but he reiterated more recently that the United States would continue to support Ukraine even if Zelensky rejects that course.

"The president of the United States has been very, very clear to us: that it's up to Ukraine to decide how and when or if they negotiate with the Russians, and we will continue to support them as long as it takes,” Milley said Thursday at the Pentagon. “The United States will continue to support Ukraine with the best possible equipment to position them on the battlefield to give them positions of strength against the Russians, and that is also true of all the other nations that attended the meeting today.”

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Milley reiterated the possibility that military operations could “probably slow down” due to the winter cold, but he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also observed that the frozen ground would allow military forces to move as necessary.

“We're going to do everything within our power to make sure that they have the means to accomplish their goals and objectives,” Austin said. “We won’t [and] haven’t prescribed to the Ukrainians what they can and cannot do. And so our focus is to continue to provide them the means to be successful in their endeavors ... Crimea is an issue to be thought through and sorted out by the Ukrainian leadership.”

 

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Tags: War in Ukraine, News, Foreign Policy, National Security, Russia

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: Russia braces for Ukraine to attack Crimea following liberation of Kherson

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