Ukraine has “every right” to take back the annexed territory of Crimea, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
Wallace was responding to a question from CNN’s Jim Sciutto about whether the U.K. would support an attempt by Ukraine to recapture Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged last summer to reverse Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Extensive fortifications have been spotted along Crimea’s coast and the Russian Sevastopol naval base recently as Russia braces for a Ukrainian advance.
Many fear that an attempt by Ukraine to recapture Crimea would be a red line for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Estonian defense minister Hanno Pevkur told Newsweek this month that losing control of occupied Crimea is a “red line” for the Russian president.
Crimea is “Ukrainian soil,” Wallace said. “It is their sovereign territory. It has been invaded. They’ve lost thousands of lives as a result of that invasion, and I think, ultimately, it’ll be Ukraine’s decision.”
“Under international law, they have every right to do that in accordance of self-defense. Britain isn’t going to stand in the way of that,” the defense secretary said.
Zelensky reiterated in April that Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive includes plans to liberate Crimea, stating that his country’s success depends on the continued supply of arms by the West.
“We want to save as many lives as possible, so the number of weapons matters,” he said.
Oleksiy Arestovych, who served as Ukrainian presidential adviser until he resigned in January, said earlier this month that Kyiv’s counteroffensive will target the strategically vital Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Russia with Crimea.
Arestovych said one of the goals of Ukraine’s counteroffensive may be an operation in the south of the country that will seek to cut Russians off from the land corridor to Crimea, paving the way for Ukraine to recapture the Black Sea peninsula.
“Crimea cannot be held without a land corridor,” Arestovych told the YouTube channel Feygin Live, hosted by lawyer and former Russian opposition politician Mark Feygin.
If Ukraine blocks the narrow isthmus which links Crimea to Ukraine’s mainland, then the Crimean bridge will become the peninsula’s sole supply channel, he said, adding that if the bridge is demolished, Crimea will be left without help.
“We will demolish the Crimean Bridge. All this is possible under certain conditions, we are currently arranging the conditions,” Arestovych said.
On May 11, the U.K. became the first country to supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles. The U.K. provided the Storm Shadow missiles, which, according to Fabian Hoffmann, a missile technology expert and doctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo, have the potential to strike the Kerch Strait Bridge.
Storm Shadow “provides Ukraine, in principle, with an extremely potent long-range strike capability against hardened targets at operational and strategic depth,” Hoffmann said in a Twitter thread.
The Russian-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, has said that Ukraine will be unable to take the peninsula due to an extensive web of defense lines that have been put up.
“Nothing threatens Crimea in this part and the Crimeans can sleep peacefully,” Aksyonov said in March.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry via email for comment.
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