Senior U.S. military officials believe that if Ukraine keeps taking territory back from retreating Russian forces at its current rate, it could retake Crimea.

The evaluation was made as Ukrainian forces pursued the Russian army into the Luhansk region, undoing one of the Kremlin’s major wartime victories, as Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged battlefield setbacks for the first-time.

Russia was expected to defend Crimea with all its might, leaving Western officials to conclude that retaking the peninsula by force would be impossible.

However, a senior U.S. officer told British newspaper The Telegraph that recent Russian military failures imply that “the recapture of Crimea by Ukraine is now a distinct possibility that cannot be discounted.”

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By moving into Crimea, Ukraine would have advanced past the front lines as they were on Feb. 23, when Putin gave the command to invade.

A ground invasion of the crucial strategic enclave would likely be seen as a significant escalation in Russia’s eyes since it annexed Crimea in 2014.

The U.S. official pointed out: “It’s clear that Russia no longer has the ability or willpower to defend key positions, and if the Ukrainians succeed in their goal of recapturing Kherson, then there is a very real possibility that it will ultimately be able to recapture Crimea.”

The remarks echo those of Laura Cooper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, who asserted that Ukraine could recapture Crimea. “And just to be clear, Crimea is Ukraine,” she added.

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Additionally, Cooper suggested that Crimea could be reclaimed using U.S. weapons, a move that the Kremlin has deemed “extremely dangerous” and “evidence of direct U.S. involvement in the conflict.”

In a rare admission of challenges at the front on Oct. 5, Putin said: “We are working on the assumption that the situation in the new territories will stabilize.”

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Following the Russian president’s “annexation” of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, he gave the go-ahead on Oct. 5 for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to be taken over by Russia’s state nuclear monopoly.

The de-occupation of the region of Luhansk has already officially begun, announced Luhansk Governor Serhei Gaidai, on the same day.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss cautioned against making concessions to Putin and vowed that Britain would support Ukraine for “however long it takes” to win.

“We should not give in to those who want a deal which trades away Ukrainian land. They are proposing to pay in Ukrainian lives for the illusion of peace,” she remarked, during the Conservative Party conference.

“We will stand with our Ukrainian friends however long it takes. Ukraine can win, Ukraine must win, and Ukraine will win.

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