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A woman waves a Russian flag as armed servicemen wait near Russian military vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin wrested control of the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea from Kiev on Saturday citing a threat to Russian citizens and servicemen of the Russian Black Sea fleet based there.


The Crimean sticking point

Last week, the world marked the two-year anniversary of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine, but the active phase of this war really began 10 years ago today. On February 27, 2014, Russian troops began pouring into Crimea to seize this very important piece of real estate.

You’ll be hearing and reading about Crimea for many years to come. Here’s why…

Why did Russia invade Crimea?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin worked for more than a decade to keep post-Soviet Ukraine from drifting toward closer ties with the European Union after taking power in 2000. In November 2013, protests erupted in Ukraine’s capital when then-president Viktor Yanukovych – a Putin ally/crony – announced Ukraine would not sign a much-anticipated trade agreement with the EU. Yanukovych ordered a violent crackdown before protesters forced him to flee to Moscow. This episode became known as the Maidan revolution, named for the central square in Kyiv where it began.

In response to Ukraine’s pro-European uprising, Putin ordered the seizure of Crimea, the one Ukrainian province where ethnic Russians made up a majority of citizens. (Here’s a good explainer on Crimea’s complex history.)

Ukraine had no sustainable military response. The US and EU condemned the move, and imposed sanctions, but were unwilling to risk a NATO-Russia war over the peninsula.

Why does this small piece of Ukraine remain so important?

Few recognized ten years ago that Crimea was just the beginning of Putin’s broader bid to force Ukraine back into the Kremlin’s control. But it’s certainly clear now that Crimea’s status will be the most difficult part of any future negotiation to end this war.

That bargaining won’t begin soon. Putin continues to signal that he expects bigger gains than the 18% of Ukrainian land Russian forces now occupy. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky also acts as if total victory remains possible, and he lacks the domestic political backing he would need to trade land for peace.

But if/when Russian and Ukrainian negotiators finally begin to haggle, Crimea’s symbolic and strategic importance will make it the toughest nut to crack. On the Russian side, Putin has staked enormous personal credibility on his argument that history makes Crimea part of Russia. Giving it back would cost him the fruits of his 2014 invasion, which he considers a great Russian victory. It would also force him to explain why he’s surrendering what he calls core Russian land.

On the Ukrainian side, the surrender of Crimea would force Zelensky to ask Ukrainians to swallow the loss of this symbolically important land that was internationally recognized in 1994 as part of Ukraine, even by the Russian government.

And both sides know that control of Crimea is crucial to Ukraine’s future access to the Black Sea, a crucial part of the country’s continuing economic viability as a nation – and therefore Ukraine’s potential place as a European Union member state.

Can Ukraine win the war?
Can Ukraine win the war? | GZERO World with Ian Bremmer

Can Ukraine win the war?

Are NATO allies as united in their support for Kyiv as they were when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine two years ago? That was the question at the top of everyone’s minds at the Munich Security Conference, where world leaders gathered to discuss the biggest challenges to global security. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer sat down with Deputy Secretary General Mirceǎ Geoana on the sidelines of Munich to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine and what the conflict means for the future of the NATO alliance.

“Ukraine is more than Ukraine, and Ukraine is more than European security,” Geoanǎ explains, “Ukraine is an indicator of the willingness and the capacity of the West to be able to cope with challenges coming from China or anywhere else.”

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What's the plan for Ukraine after two years of war? Ian Bremmer explains
What's the plan for Ukraine after two years of war? Ian Bremmer explains | GZERO World

What's the plan for Ukraine after two years of war? Ian Bremmer explains

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its third year, what's the plan for both sides as casualties rise, Europe's support wavers and US funding for Ukraine hangs in the balance?

It’s been two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which shows no signs of ending any time soon. On Ian Explains, Ian Bremmer looks at how Ukraine and Russia have fared so far and what comes next for Kyiv and Moscow. So far, the numbers tell a grim story. Both countries have lost around 70,000 troops each, with hundreds of thousands more injured, according to recent estimates. Meanwhile, Russia still occupies around a fifth of Ukrainian territory. So what’s the plan?

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What Ukraine needs after two years of war with Russia
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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take for the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I don'tknow what you give on a second anniversary, but I know what Ukraine wants. It's ammo, it's more weapons. It is an environment where they have lost their first city, more of a large town to the Russians since last May.

And the reason for that, it's not that Ukrainians aren't willing to fight. It's not a lack of courage. It's not even a lack of troops. It's a lack of support from the United States and Europe. Yes, from the United States and Europe. The United States, which is the largest military power in the world for now, does not have approval from Congress to continue sending military support to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Europeans are not digging deep. They do have more ammunition to send. But right now that's going to other countries around the world. They have contracts with like the UAE and their willingness to prioritize Ukraine over those contracts because of a national emergency. They'd rather make the money. Look, I understand all of that, but at the end of the day, the Ukrainians are the ones that are taking it on the chin.

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Yes, Vladimir Putin is winning.

It’s been two years since Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which makes it as good a time as any to ask a simple question: Is he winning?

Here’s the best argument we can think of for why the answer is “da.”

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A Ukrainian serviceman gestures next to a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer before firing toward Russian troops, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, at a position on a front line in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine November 15, 2023


Ukrainian troops fight for key bridgehead over the Dnipro

Ukrainian troops have crossed the vast Dnipro River and established a bridgehead on the eastern shore, a significant breakthrough after months of agonizingly slow progress in Kyiv’s counteroffensive. If they can hold – and it’s a big “if,” as a Russian regional official says “a fiery hell has been arranged” for Ukrainian troops – the largest geographic barrier on the road to Crimea will be at their backs.

The lay of the land: The Dnipro is the longest river in Europe, and flows in a gentle north-south curve along the entire length of Ukraine. It empties into the Black Sea just southwest of Kherson, which Ukrainian troops liberated a year ago, and controls access thence to the Crimean peninsula, a major symbolic and strategic objective for Kyiv.

Ukrainian troops appear to have secured control over a strip of riverfront between Kherson and the strategic village of Krynky about 24 miles east-northeast. Porting the heavy equipment they’ll need to keep up the attack across the Dnipro is challenging, with most of the bridges in the region long-since destroyed, but a temporary bridge near Krynky, where the Dnipro is narrowest, could change the equation.

Don’t expect a rapid breakthrough: Even if Ukrainian troops do manage to bring over the armor and weapons they need to advance, Russia has multiple lines of prepared defenses to fall back upon. There are no easy countermeasures to the minefields and long-range strikes that have stymied Ukrainian progress since the summer. That said, successfully pulling off one of the toughest maneuvers in modern warfare could represent a morale victory, challenging notions that the conflict has ossified into a “stalemate,” as Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhniy put it recently.

A satellite image shows smoke billowing from a Russian Black Sea Navy HQ after a missile strike, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Sevastopol, Crimea, September 22, 2023.


Ukraine strikes Russian targets in Crimea

Ukraine has faced a wave of bad news from the West in recent days.
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President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden greet President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine at the South Portico of the White House. Zelensky is meeting with Biden following his participation in the United Nations high-level meetings earlier this week.

Allison Bailey/NurPhoto via Reuters

Ukraine war sees escalation of weapons and words

After a week of high-stakes diplomacy, including stops in Washington, the UN General Assembly in New York, Ottawa, and Lublin, Poland, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returned home amid fresh conflict in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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