Several anonymous US officials told The New York Times that they are growing more comfortable with the idea of helping Ukraine advance an attack on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula on Wednesday.
The Crimean Peninsula, which has been under Russian control since its annexation in 2014, has become further integrated into Russia’s state infrastructure since it invaded Ukraine in early 2022. While the US has maintained that Crimea is still part of Ukraine, it has hesitated to become too involved in the Crimean battlefield.
According to the officials, fears that Russia would retaliate using tactical nuclear weapons have been assuaged, meaning the risk of assisting Ukrainian operations in Crimea may be worth it as the US seeks to strengthen Kyiv’s position in any future negotiations.
What is so important about Crimea?
Situated between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, Crimea is home to roughly 2.4 million inhabitants – including around 70,000 Russian troops.
Illegally annexed in 2014, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in August to restore Ukrainian rule over Russia-annexed Crimea, a move that he said would help re-establish "world law and order."
"It all began with Crimea, and it will end with Crimea," Zelensky said in an address at the time.
Russia has shown no sign of abandoning Crimea, home to its Black Sea fleet, and has used the peninsula as a platform to launch missile strikes on Ukrainian targets. Major Russian bank Sberbank, which has faced tremendous international sanctions since the war began, announced Wednesday that it has begun operations in occupied Crimea.
American officials said they are discussing sending HIMARS rocket systems and Bradley fighting vehicles to Ukrainian forces so they can fight for control of the Crimean bridge – a critical supply route for Russia’s war effort.
“Ukraine could use Bradleys to move forces down major roads, such as the M14, which connects Kherson, Melitopol and Mariupol,” Seth G. Jones, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times.
“Any Ukrainian infantry advancing through these areas would face significant fire from Russian positions, and Bradleys offer helpful firepower and protection for troops.”