An advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Financial Times that Kyiv would be “ready” to negotiate the status of Crimea with Russia if it launches a successful counteroffensive and captures the territory Russia controls that borders the peninsula.
“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” said Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office.
Sybiha’s comments are the first sign that Ukraine might be willing to seek a diplomatic solution with Russia over Crimea. Kyiv cut off peace talks with Moscow in April 2022. Since then, Zelensky and his top aides have called for a complete Russian withdrawal from all the territory it controls, including Crimea, before any negotiations can resume.
Zelensky signaled he was thinking about the possibility of negotiations last week when he said if Ukraine lost the Donbas city of Bakhmut, he would be pressured to “compromise” with Moscow. But Zelensky’s comments weren’t as explicit as Sybiha’s.
Sybiha did not rule out the idea of Ukraine trying to take Crimea by force. “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army,” he said. But Ukraine’s Western backers doubt Ukraine has the ability to take the peninsula, and a full-blown attack could lead to a major escalation from Moscow.
Rear Admiral Tim Woods, the British defense attaché in Washington, told Financial Times that Crimea would need “a political solution because of just the concentration of force that is there and what it would mean for the Ukrainians to go in there.”
Besides the military aspect, the people of Crimea don’t want to be “liberated” by Kyiv, as polling has shown since Moscow absorbed the peninsula in 2014 that most Crimeans are happy they’re part of the Russian Federation.
Ukraine still has a long way to go before it would be close to Crimea’s border, and it’s not clear if its armed forces have the capability to beat back Russia. While the US is pushing for Kyiv to launch a counteroffensive, Zelensky said at the end of March it won’t be possible unless he receives even more support from the West.