Are we being “conditioned” to think negotiations are acceptable?

Robert McConnell
March 6, 2023

Photo: Presidential Press Office via AP

Crimea is being talked about more and it seems to be a topic Washington is using to set the groundwork for seeing negotiations to end the war as inevitable.

Without Crimea Ukraine and the west will have rewarded Putin’s barbaric behavior, his war crimes, his genocide, and left him a platform from which he can control Ukraine and its economy – and where he can prepare for the next phase of his war against the west.


Why Biden is ambiguous on Ukraine’s Crimea question

BY ELLEN MITCHELL - 03/05/23 3:16 PM ET

File – President Joe Biden, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talk during an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

The Biden administration is keeping the door open when it comes to U.S. support for Ukraine taking back Russian-occupied Crimea.

Administration officials have repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether Washington would support Kyiv’s efforts to retake the annexed peninsula, punting the issue to further “down the road.” [Heck, they have never stated unequivocally that their goal is to see that Ukraine has what it needs, when it needs it, and where it needs it to win this war! RAM]

Even as some lawmakers have called for the administration to be clearer about its stance, experts say the strategy of ambiguity is a way for the United States to hedge its bets on a contested piece of land that may help bring Russia to the negotiating table to end the war. [Ah, the infamous “negotiating table”. Yes, all wars end at some sort of table but why is it so hard to understand Putin is not going to stop – he might pause at some point – but he will not stop until he is stopped. And he has made his goal clear and it doesn’t stop at Ukraine! RAM]

“They may believe that there is value in holding Crimea at risk in order to put pressure on the Russians to come to the negotiating table,” said Chris Chivvis, a former U.S. national intelligence officer in Europe and current director of the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment.

“It’s possible that that’s driving their policy. . . . Even if they don’t actually believe that it’s likely that Crimea will be returned to Ukraine militarily.” [Neither Ukraine nor the west will have won anything if Crimea is not returned to Ukraine. If Russia continues to hold Crimea it will continue to be in a favorable position to shell Ukraine at will. Russia will continue to control the Black Sea and Ukraine’s commercial future – imports, exports. And Russia’s bad behavior will have been rewarded and it will use that reward in the future to cause much more costly damage to the west. RAM]

The Crimean Peninsula has been a conflict zone since Russia Invaded and annexed it in early 2014, with little Ukrainian progress on taking it back until this past year. While still considered official Ukrainian territory — with the West denouncing the invasion — many gave Kyiv little chance to reclaim it given geographic and military limitations.

That mindset has shifted, however, a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his now disastrous war. As Ukrainian troops continue to reclaim large swaths of land from Russian forces, the view has changed over Kyiv’s potential to take Crimea back. [Forget views – give Ukraine the right weapons (think long-range missiles) and it will take Crimea. RAM]

Ukraine has been clear that its own goal is to reclaim the peninsula, with President Volodymyr Zelensky in September vowing that his forces would claw back every bit of territory the Russians had taken.

“We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms,” he said in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly. “But we need time.” [And weapons. There are available weapons Ukraine should have been given long ago. The reactive providing of weapons to respond to what has happened on the battlefield is all wrong. It makes it much more difficult for Ukraine to take the full initiative and drive Russia out, and it is bleeding Ukraine and Ukrainians unnecessarily. RAM]

Zelensky repeated that view in a video appearance at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in January, asserting that “Crimea is our land, our territory. . . . we will return what is ours.”

Though U.S. officials have said that Washington will support Ukraine for however long it takes for them to win the war, they’ve been unwilling to give full support to Kyiv’s ambitions in Crimea.

That’s in part due to the heavy arms — long-range missiles, tanks and aircraft — that would likely be required to mount a successful offensive to regain control of Crimea.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan last month dodged questions on whether the Biden administration would support the Ukrainian goal.

“The critical thing right now is that they need to take back the territory in the south and the east that they are currently focused on and we need to give them the tools to be able to do that,” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“The question of Crimea, and the question of what happens down the road, is something that we will come to,” Sullivan added. [Sullivan is not shortsighted, he is blind to warfighting. Either does not grasp the reality of the lives being lost unnecessarily, or doesn’t care. With the right weapons this war would be over, lives saved, Putin stopped and Ukraine whole and free. RAM]

The Pentagon also touched on the subject in January, when Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said the U.S. has long held the position that Crimea is part of Ukraine and supports “the Ukrainians taking back their territory by any means that they can.”

But she declined to say if the U.S. military endorses such a move on Crimea specifically, telling reporters that “we don’t dictate to the Ukrainians how to run their operations.” [Give me a break! We essentially dictate what Ukraine cannot do by not giving Ukraine what it needs. RAM]

When asked this past week about the Pentagon’s stance on the issue, a spokesperson declined to offer anything further.

Senior Defense Department officials in early February also told lawmakers that Ukrainian forces are unlikely to be able to retake Crimea from Russia in the near future, Politico reported. [Not much of a prediction – if we don’t give Ukraine long-range missiles Ukraine gets to absorb Russia’s indiscriminate destruction and slaughter from Russia’s sanctuaries in Crimea, and does not have what it needs to counter successfully. RAM]

Lawmakers have since expressed doubt over whether Ukraine can conceivably recapture the peninsula, with House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) last month saying there’s “more of a consensus” that “Ukraine is not going to militarily retake Crimea.” [Yes, given our posture on not supplying long-range missiles and more. RAM]

Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), a fellow committee member, also believes the U.S. strategy is one that leaves the door open for peace negotiations. [“Peace” without Ukraine winning would be a farse and one we will later pay a much heavier price for down the road - financially and with ‘boots on the ground’. RAM]

“It’s important before negotiations even begin that we don’t try to prejudge what the outcomes could be,” Kim told The Hill. “I’ve seen a lot of negotiations lead in very different places than we initially expected.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who also sits on the panel, said U.S. ambiguity on Crimea “suits our purposes.”

“I don’t think the administration should be dictating Ukrainian operational policy,” Gallagher said. “We can provide them weapons, but we don’t need to say take XYZ.” [But we certainly can and should be providing Ukraine the weapons it says it needs to take its stated objectives. RAM]

Not everyone has been pleased with the U.S. stance, with some GOP lawmakers pressing the administration to provide an outlook for what the end of the war between Russia and Ukraine might look like.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) on Feb. 26 said U.S. officials “should be more clear” about whether U.S. support for Ukraine extends to retaking Russian-occupied Crimea.

Michael Kimmage, a historian of U.S.-Russian relations at the Catholic University of America, said if you squint between the lines of what the Biden administration has so far said, it appears that “they’re not crazy about the idea of Ukraine really putting Crimea in its sights.” [If you squint you see the inexplicable policy of not wanting Ukraine to lose but not wanted Russia to lose either. Who can actually believe that is a winning strategic policy? RAM]

“In terms of any sort of major military events, it’s probably not in the cards this year, for practical, military reasons,” said Kimmage, who also held the Russia/Ukraine portfolio on the State Department’s policy planning staff from 2014 to 2016.

He added that, for the time being, the U.S. had more urgent tasks in its sights, including the battle that’s raging around Bakhmut, the possibility Ukraine could take back more territory in the Donbas, and fear over a potential Russian strike in the north.

“There are lots of things to worry about that are not particularly connected to Crimea, that may just fall higher on the agenda,” Kimmage said. [Hello! What about the shelling coming into Ukraine from the Russian sanctuaries in Crimea we protect by not giving Ukraine long-range missiles? RAM]

The introductory and parenthetical comments are Mr. McConnell’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation or the FOUN.

By Robert McConnell
March 5, 2023