how Crimea has become the new strategic stake in the conflict

how Crimea has become the new strategic stake in the conflict

This Tuesday and last week, two Russian military sites were struck in the heart of Crimea. Actions that stick to the speech of President Volodymyr Zelensky and the agenda of Ukrainian authorities who have never mourned this region annexed by the Russians in 2014.

While the Russians have constantly strengthened their grip on Donbass since the invasion of Ukraine, the latter is now seeking to extend the fighting to a new theater of operation: Crimea. As a way of bringing the iron to a wound still raw since the gradual annexation of the peninsula by Russia, between March 2014 and July 2015.

The integration of the region into the Russian Federation received the blank check of a referendum organized on March 16, 2014, establishing at 96.77% the rate of votes in favor of this attachment. On the other hand, it was condemned by the international community with the exception of eleven countries, including Syria and Belarus, for example.

Above all, Ukraine has never admitted it and is now seeking to regain control of it. In the space of a week, his army has just twice struck Russian bases located in the heart of this disputed province. Actions that send back the very concrete echo of the official discourse of the Ukrainian authorities, who have made the return of Crimea to the national territory a priority.

Operations “like the work of a goldsmith”

On Tuesday morning, ammunition from a Russian depot in Djankoi exploded. The governor of Crimea, appointed by the Kremlin, spoke of two injured civilians, Russia still lamenting the loss of a high voltage line, a damaged power plant as well as damage along a local railway line.

A week back, on August 9, another Russian ammunition depot was blown up in the region, near the Saki base. The event also resulted in a heavy human toll – one dead and 14 injured – as well as substantial material damage. Euronews has indeed indicated that the affair had cost the Russian air force eight aircraft.

If the origins of the explosions of Saki remain nebulous – Moscow denying having suffered an attack -, the paternity of the explosion which occurred Tuesday at the depot of Djankoï puts this time the belligerents in agreement. The Russian army denounced an “act of sabotage” in a press release published in the process, while Andrii Iermak welcomed on Telegram, in a post relayed by AFP, a “operation ‘demilitarization’ way goldsmith’s work by the Ukrainian armed forces”, which he promised would continue “until the complete liberation of Ukrainian territories”.

The consensus is however surprising… at least the specialists. Because as well as report it here Le Mondethe Ukrainian troops do not, in principle, have missiles with a range greater than 80 km: quite insufficient insofar as the two sites are more than 200 kilometers from the front line.

However, according to the evening newspaper, military experts believe that this must be seen as the action of Ukrainian-made missiles doped by the allies of the attacked nation, in particular thanks to the addition of a guidance system ad hoc.

Pin down Russian aviation, move the fleet away from ports: Ukrainian objectives

Apart from the symbolic significance of these operations, these explosions carried out on Crimean territory are of immediate military interest for the Ukrainians. On the one hand, it is from these bases that Russia bombs its victim and moreover, as noted by the World Yohann Michel, associate researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies where he devotes himself to defense issues, “in a conflict that consumes a lot of material, as is the case in Ukraine, if only to slow down rail convoys can have an impact.”

The specialist adds: “It can also force the Russians to push their ammunition depots a little further from the front, and therefore stretch their supply lines”.

On the other hand, it is a question of encouraging the Russian fleet to move away from its home port of Sevastopol, and therefore to break the food blockade that it surrounds. The removal of these ships and submarines would also have an additional virtue in Ukrainian eyes: lessening the harmful power of their missiles.

BFMTV’s editorialist for international issues, Anthony Bellanger, sees in any case in these Ukrainian initiatives “a turning point” in the conflict.

“Crimea is the darling baby of the Russians and Vladimir Putin. Typing in Crimea is something the Ukrainians had not done since the beginning of the war and in addition, Vladimir Putin had made it a red line “, he highlighted Tuesday on our set. “And we realize not only that the Ukrainians are capable of hitting Ukraine, in depth, but also of mobilizing supporters there. In any case, it is a very strong humiliation for Russia.”

Tourism, a new target of the conflict

This campaign also tackles a more unexpected side. Mikhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, tweeted: “Crimea in a normal country is the Black Sea, the mountains, recreation and tourism. But the Crimea occupied by the Russians, these are explosions of ammunition dumps and a high risk of death for invaders and thieves”.

A sunny region, the Crimean peninsula is – at least since the Soviet period, during which the Party and the State sent their cadres there – a popular tourist destination. To install it in the war therefore also aims to demoralize Russian civil opinion.

The scheme also seems to be working, as shown by the images of panicked holidaymakers in Saki after the explosions last week or those of traffic jams on the way back to Russia.

“Striking image! The flight of Russian tourists to the beaches of Crimea .. The war in Ukraine comes without warning for these holidaymakers after the attack on the air base of Novofedorivka in Saki”, captioned our journalist Ulysse Gosset on Twitter.

The Russian political class was not mistaken there and tried to put out this fire. “The tourists are not in danger. We ask you to keep calm,” said Alexei Tcherniak, local Russian deputy, and quoted here by I24 News.

“The war began with Crimea and must end with its liberation”

Finally, Crimea is emerging as a major political objective for kyiv. For Volodymyr Zelensky, Crimea is the alpha and omega of this war, its true origin – more than seven years before the Russian invasion of February 24 -, and is intended to be its conclusion.

“The world is beginning to realize that it was wrong in 2014 when it decided not to respond with all its might to Russia’s first aggressive actions,” he added. released the Ukrainian president during a speech pronounced on August 9, just hours after Saki’s crash. “The war in Ukraine began with Crimea and must end with its liberation”, he again insisted, soon extending: “Crimea is Ukrainian and we will never give it up”.

It is certainly impossible to know in which direction the fate of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict will swing. But it is on the Crimean side that it should be played.

Robin Verner

Robin Verner BFMTV journalist

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