Zelenskys forces could enter Crimea by mid-2023, says ex-US general

Zelensky pledges to make Crimea 'part of the European Union'

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Vladimir Putin could be facing a huge nightmare following a warning that Volodymyr Zelensky’s forces are tipped to enter Crimea by mid-2023 as Russian forces are pushed further back. The peninsula of Crimea has become a major area of contention during the war in Ukraine, which Russia seized from its eastern neighbour in 2014 and now considers part of its own country. Ukraine’s forces have continued to make steady progress over recent weeks, with fierce counter-offences pushing Russian opposition out of occupied areas and denting Putin’s war efforts.

Last week, the Russian President gave a televised address insisting he was not bluffing over the use of nuclear weapons if Russia’s occupied regions come under threat from the West.

But now two former commanding generals of US Army Europe and Africa have claimed the huge success of recent counteroffensives by Ukrainian forces will eventually result in the recapture of Crimea.

Retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges told Lithuanian media outlet LRT: “I hope that by the end of (2022), Ukrainian forces will push Russian forces to the positions of February 23, and that by the middle of next year, they will be in Crimea.”

He also told the CEPA Forum in Washington: “Once Ukrainians are able to get HIMARS or other rocket launching systems within range and they start putting a rocket on Russian bases in Crimea, then it is just a matter of time.

“Crimea is the prize. Victory will be when that last Russian soldier walks along that long bridge and the Russian troops are gone from Crimea.”

Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling agreed that Ukraine would look to recapture Crimea and while he admitted the battle would be extremely tough, it would have backing from the US.

He said: “If Ukraine decides to go and retake Crimea — and I think they eventually will — the US government has said we will support the actions of Ukraine anywhere they want to go.”

Lieutenant General Hertling acknowledged it would be a “tough fight” for Ukrainian forces to retake the annexed peninsula – largely because of the challenges posed by the terrain.

He explained: “They are limited to just a couple of roads that go over a marshland. It is going to be very difficult from a conventional perspective for the Ukrainian army to get into Crimea.”

The retired commanding general recalled that when Russia annexed Crimea eight years ago, it relied on its naval infantry and special forces units to go in to capture it.

But he warned Ukrainian forces possess a limited naval presence and would require “long-range fires” to succeed.

Lieutenant General Hertling added: “Even then, you can’t take ground just with artillery. You have got to have people on the ground to do that.”

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Last week, Turkey issued a huge warning to Russia after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered his counterpart Putin to return all “occupied” land.

When asked if Russia should be allowed to keep some of the territory it has taken from Ukraine since it invaded in February and if that should be “part of a solution to this — to this conflict”, he replied through a translator: “No, and undoubtedly no.

“When we talk about reciprocal agreement, this is what we mean. If a peace is going to be established in Ukraine, of course, the returning of the land that was invaded will become really important.

“This is what is expected. This is what is wanted. Mr Putin has taken certain steps. We have taken certain steps. The lands which were invaded will be returned to Ukraine.”

Mr Erdogan was also asked if Russia “should be allowed to keep Crimea”, to which he replied: “Since 2014, we have been talking to my dear friend Putin about this, and this is what we have requested from him.

“We asked him to return Crimea to its rightful owners. These are our descendants at the same time, the people who are living there.

“If you were to take this step forward, if you could leave us, you would also be relieving the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine as well. That’s what we have always been saying. But since then, unfortunately, no step has been taken forward.”

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