President Volodymyr Zelensky has signaled a nuanced shift in Kyiv’s stance on the Russia-occupied Crimea, telling a television interviewer he believes if advancing Ukrainian forces reach the northern border of the Black Sea peninsula, the Russian military might eventually leave without a battle.

“If we are on the administrative or conditional borders with Crimea, I believe that it is possible to politically press the demilitarization of Russia on the territory of Ukrainian Crimea. I believe that this would be better,” Zelensky said, in a nationally televised hour-long interview.

Zelensky’s declaration that Crimea, a territory illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 and held up by Russian state propaganda as a full-fledged part of Russia never “really belonging” to Ukraine, might return to Kyiv’s sovereignty without a conventional military offensive marked a nuanced – but nonetheless significant – shift in official Ukrainian rhetoric on Crimea.

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More than 80 percent of Ukrainian voters consider the Crimea territory that was stolen by Moscow should be returned to Kyiv’s control by armed force. Both the Zelensky administration and even Ukrainian allies – most recently Polish President Andrzej Duda have in recent months said Russian de-militarization of the peninsula, which is absolutely rejected by the Kremlin, must take place for the Russo-Ukrainian War to end.

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“The de-occupation of Crimea and the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity are necessary prerequisites not only for security in the Black Sea-Azov basin but also for the stability of the global security architecture. We cannot allow Putin to achieve his goals concerning Ukraine,” Duda said in an Aug. 23 speech at an international forum on Crimea and ending Russian occupation there.

But top Kyiv officials, since mid-August, have subtly walked back from that hardline position, messaging that Ukraine expects to recover Crimea not by full-scale invasion and total liberation, but over a longer term. The first step, they are saying, is effective “military action” against Russian army installations and troops in Crimea and leveraging punishing Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) strikes now into later Kremlin concessions.

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The Ukrainian leader’s comments came one day after Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR), told the Krym.Realii information platform on Aug. 26, one day before Zelensky’s declaration, he believes Crimea will return to Kyiv’s control not by military conquest alone, but by combined application of diplomatic pressure and “military actions” against Kremlin targets.

“The combined way is not only diplomatic, not only military but there are also many other different options. But without military action, this is impossible,” Budanov said. “We will bring back everything in the combined way… At present, I will not give an explanation of what it [a combined way strategy] is.”

Less than 48 hours before Budanov made those murky hints about multi-dimensional pressure tactics, on Aug. 24, according to multiple reports, a wave of kamikaze drones slammed into barracks and equipment storage buildings owned by Russia’s 126th Coastal Defense Brigade of its Black Sea Fleet, near the village Perevalne, in Crimea.

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Pro-Russia information platforms said at least 42 drones packing explosives entered Crimean air space, and all were shot down or put out of action by jamming, with almost no losses or damage to civilians or military. It was the single largest Ukrainian drone strike of the war, and nine drones did manage to reach Perevalne base, “slightly damaging” two trucks, Russian military blogger Vladimir Rogov reported. Kyiv’s attacks against Crimean targets were becoming more sophisticated, and the drones that Perevalne took map-of-the-earth flight path between mountain peaks, he said.

Independent Ukrainian information platforms, all citing an Aug. 26 AFU special operations press release describing it all as “Operation Top Gun,” confirmed the attack’s target was the 126th Brigade and facilities around it, and that the drone wave exploited rugged topography in the area to evade air defenses, destroying multiple heavy weapons and killing or wounded more than 30 Russian service personnel.

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Sources in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) told Kyiv Post that the operation killed and wounded “several dozen” Russian servicemen and damaging ammunition dumps and storage facilities.

The SBU source said Russian forces were “completely unprepared for such a special operation” and an unspecified number of drones “managed to bypass all enemy defense systems.”

They added: “We predict even more surprises for the occupiers in the future.”

According to military analysts, the Perevalne mass drone strike was successful, in part, because of other recent Ukrainian attacks in Crimea the previous week, including a commando landing to knock out a pair of radars near the Crimean seaside village of Olenivka, between one and three long-range Ukrainian missile smashed a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system positioned near Olenivka with the specific mission of destroying all incoming enemy aircraft or missiles.

AFU strike planners sent a pair of Mugin-5 drones toward the S-400 site from the east as a distraction, before slamming three on target from the west, Rogov reported.

The Ukrainian raids and attacks focusing on Russian air defenses around Olenivka were preceded by intense operations by Western ally aircraft operating over international waters over the Black Sea, on Aug. 22 according to open source air traffic trackers two Boeing E-3A Sentry electronic warfare jets flown by NATO pilots, a US Air Force RQ-48 Global Hawk drone, a US Navy Lockheed EP-3E II Aries maritime reconnaissance turboprop, and Boeing KC-135R refueler jet with an encrypted call sign.

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According to the Russian military information Telegram platform Voin DV, it was the largest number of Western military aircraft operating in air space near Crimea, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Aug. 28 press release from Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) takes responsibility for a Saturday mass drone strike against a Russian troop installation in Crimea. SOF statements say sixteen drones, including the type pictured, were used in the strike.

Kyiv Post analysts have no direct evidence NATO nations operating aircraft over the Black Sea are providing the AFU actionable targeting data, however, the transfer is widely assumed by regional security analysts.

On Monday the Ukrainian campaign of probing Crimean air defenses preparatory to launching a strike to cause damage appeared, possibly, to be continuing, with Russia’s air defense command reporting a pair of Ukrainian drones, and then an incoming cruise missile had been shot down in the skies over the seaside city of Yevpatoria, an important base for Russian marines and amphibious operations troops.

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Sergei Aksyonov, Kremlin-appointed head of the Crimea occupation authority in a statement told residents: “Everyone should stay calm.”

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Comments ( 1)

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Joseph Swanson
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

"Russian state propaganda as a full-fledged part of Russia never “really belonging” to Ukraine."
First, Crimea was gifted by Khrushchev in 1954 to Ukraine and was legally done so under soviet law.
Second, the russian federation, which acknowledges being the legal successor government to the ussr government is legally obligated to honor all treaties and laws ratified by ussr government between the 1920's and 1960's or so.  
Once again, the russian government cannot tell the truth or adhere to laws, treaties, or agreements...unless it benefits them.

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