US: ‘Crimea Remains Part Of Ukraine,’ Retaking Russian-Held Areas Top Concern
The United States declared Sunday that the Crimean Peninsula remains a part of Ukraine but said the more immediate concern is for Kyiv’s forces to retake lands that Moscow has seized in its yearlong war. The comments came on the ninth anniversary of Russia illegally annexing the territory.
“The United States does not and never will recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula. Crimea is Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement.
At the same time, Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it is up to Ukraine to decide what constitutes victory or an acceptable diplomatic outcome, even though no peace negotiations are occurring.
“That’s up to Ukraine to define,” Sullivan said. “It has been critical to us … that there be nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. And so, it’s not for the United States to define victory for Ukraine. It’s for the United States to support Ukraine on the battlefield, so that they can achieve the victory that they define.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last year, “Crimea is Ukrainian. And we will never give it up. This Russian war against Ukraine and the entire free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea, with its liberation.” But Sullivan noted that Zelenskyy in the past week “has said we are going to have to ultimately get to a diplomatic phase of this conflict.”
“The critical thing right now is that they need to take back the territory in the South and the East that they are currently focused on, and we need to give them the tools to be able to do that,” Sullivan concluded.
“The question of Crimea, and the question of what happens down the road, is something that we will come to,” he said. “Where we are right now is that we need to be focused on the immediate term, because it is critical that we move fast, and we move decisively to help them take back the territory across that line of contact that Russian troops are currently occupying.”
In another U.S. assessment of the war as it enters its second year, CIA Director William Burns told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being “too confident” in his military’s ability to force Ukraine into submission.
Burns said that Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s intelligence services, displayed “a sense of cockiness and hubris” when they met in November that reflected Putin’s own beliefs “that he can make time work for him, that he believes he can grind down the Ukrainians, that he can wear down our European allies, that political fatigue will eventually set in.”
Burns said he judged Putin as “quite determined” to continue the war, despite the casualties, tactical shortcomings and economic and reputational damage to Russia.
“I think Putin is, right now, entirely too confident of his ability … to wear down Ukraine,” Burns said and went on to add, “at some point, he’s going to have to face up to increasing costs as well, in coffins coming home to some of the poorest parts of Russia,” where many of the conscripts “being thrown as cannon fodder” are from.
Burns also said Putin was underestimating U.S. resolve to support Ukraine, saying that it has been the Russian leader’s view that Americans have “attention deficit disorder and we’ll move on to some other issue eventually.”
In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sullivan said the U.S. is continuing to monitor the possibility that China may send munitions to Russia, but said, “At present, China has not moved forward as far as we can discern.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Beijing a week ago of unspecified consequences if it helped arm Russian forces.
Burns said, “It would be a very risky and unwise bet” for China to help arm Russia, adding that such a move could only further strain relations between the world’s two largest economics. “That’s why I hope very much that they don’t.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to deflect Zelenskyy’s request to send Ukraine F-16 fighter jets, with Sullivan saying the U.S. is taking “a very critical look at what Ukraine needs at this moment,” and concluded that the tanks European countries are soon sending Kyiv’s forces are more important. The U.S. has also promised to send its Abrams tanks to Ukraine, but they may not be deployed for a year.
Elsewhere on the war front, the British defense ministry said Sunday an elite Russian infantry force has suffered significant losses in Ukraine.
The ministry said in an intelligence update that imagery from the Vuhledar section of the Donetsk region shows “concentrated Russian vehicle losses,” with the vehicles probably from Russia’s 155th Naval Infantry Brigade.
The ministry said the infantry “has been tasked with some of the toughest tactical missions in the war and has suffered extremely high casualties.”
The ministry update, posted on Twitter, said the capability of the Naval Infantry brigades has “almost certainly been significantly degraded” because its units have been replenished with “inexperienced mobilized personnel.”
The European Union agreed Saturday to impose new sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The restrictions “are directed at military and political decision-makers, companies supporting or working within the Russian military industry, and commanders in the Wagner Group,” the EU’s presidency said in a statement. Wagner is a Russian paramilitary group fighting alongside Russian troops against Ukraine.