Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reaffirmed his position that the war in Ukraine will not end until Ukrainian forces take Crimea, which Russia has controlled since 2014.
“We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea. And while Crimea is under the Russian occupation, it means only one thing: the war is not over yet,” Zelensky told CNN in an interview taped on Sunday.
When asked if there was any scenario where there could be peace in Ukraine without Kyiv controlling Crimea, Zelensky said, “It will not be victory then.”
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula following the 2014 US-backed coup in Kyiv that ousted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. A referendum at the time saw 97% of voters in Crimea favored joining the Russian Federation. The US and Ukraine dispute the results, but polling since then has shown that the people of Crimea are happy they joined Russia.
While Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have maintained taking Crimea as one of their war goals, the Pentagon has said the prospect is unlikely. To put the peninsula under threat of invasion, Ukrainian forces would need to regain a significant amount of territory to the north, and the counteroffensive is off to a slow start.
Crimea is also a major red line for Russian President Vladimir Putin, something Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged. If Russia’s control of the peninsula comes under threat, it could risk nuclear escalation.
Despite the risks, US officials have said they support Ukrainian attacks on Crimea. The Biden administration placed restrictions on the use of US weapons so Ukraine doesn’t use them to attack Russian territory, but the limits do not apply to Crimea, as the US does not recognize the peninsula as part of Russia.