Melnyk: Putin may request a green corridor from Crimea for his army. Interview

April 18, 2023

Taking into account all the circumstances, liberation of occupied Crimea with an advancement of the Ukrainian Defence Forces from the Crimean Isthmus is extremely risky and will require enormous resources. There are more acceptable options instead, such as cutting off the occupying forces in Crimea from Russia, destroying the enemy's Black Sea Fleet, striking the Crimean bridge. 

As a result, at some point the occupier country of Russia will be forced to ask for negotiations with Ukraine and request a green corridor for the withdrawal of its troops. That is why one should not underestimate the military-diplomatic way of de-occupation of the peninsula. Although the Kremlin’s leader, Vladimir Putin, in his public statements does not show readiness for such a step, facts that may indicate preparations for the surrender of Crimea. This opinion was expressed by the co-director of foreign policy programmes, coordinator of international projects of Razumkov Centre, military expert Oleksiy Melnyk in an exclusive interview with OBOZREVATEL.

- Former US special representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker said that Ukraine can start the de-occupation of Crimea right now. In his opinion, the first priority is to isolate the peninsula from Russia. To do this, it is necessary to strike the Crimean bridge and destroy the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. What do you think about it?

- Kurt Volker described one of the possible scenarios for the liberation of Crimea. But I would like to emphasize that this is only one scenario. Actually, he mentioned the components of a successful operation to liberate Crimea. The option of the Ukrainian troops trying to simply move from the Crimean Isthmus to Crimea is extremely risky and highly resource-intensive. The probability of such an operation is close to zero for many reasons. 

We can assume that our military-political leadership is considering various scenarios, various options of de-occupation.

Statements about a possible military-diplomatic way caused a storm of criticism, which, in my opinion, was undeserved. It's quite realistic. What Kurt Volker said is, in fact, creating the conditions for Russia to be forced to sit down at the negotiating table at some point. In addition, Ukraine's declaration of readiness for negotiations will not mean that our country is ready for compromises that do not suit us us.

Summing up, it can be said that the best option is to create such conditions by cutting off Crimea from supplies, primarily military materiel and troops, that Russia has no way out, except to negotiate with Ukraine a green corridor to withdraw occupational forces and those civilians who, for obvious reasons, cannot stay in Crimea, which will be controlled by the Ukrainian government.

- But we see from the Kremlin's public statements that they do not consider losing this war and losing Crimea feasible. We do not see any hints that the occupational authorities are ready for compromises with Ukraine. When do you think this point of no return will be passed in the mind of the Kremlin’s leader, Putin, and the rest of the Kremlin leadership?

- The situation is changing. While before the beginning of the large-scale invasion the position of the Kremlin’s leader was very firm – namely, that the topic of Crimea is closed, now, this bravado about "Crimea is Russian forever" persists in the public space but the practical activities, such as building defence fortifications, the fact that all military targets on the territory of Crimea can be hit by Ukrainian weapons, indicate that the peninsula is no longer such a bulwark as Russia would like it to be. 

Additional markers include the tourists' desire to have vacations in Crimea, an increase in the number of real estate sales offers compared to purchases, etc. These practical steps are more reliable indicators than official statements.

Even our Western partners, who are cautious about providing Ukraine with weapons to attack Russian territory, treat the Crimean issue separately.

I believe that Putin will stick to his position until the end, because he understands very well: Crimea is the last straw that will remove him from his throne. Putin's rhetoric is expected. But at the same time, Russia is preparing to defend Crimea, while the success of this "special operation" is questioned from time to time at different levels in Russia.

- The NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said that there are currently no signs of China supplying Russia with weapons. At the same time, The Washington Post reported that leaked secret Pentagon documents allegedly contain information about China's agreement to provide Russia with lethal weapons. Do you think that such an agreement could have been made? If so, can China venture on it?

- There is no contradiction between Danilov's statement and the reports about the leak. He says that there is no evidence of Chinese arms deliveries. There may be talks, but it is currently impossible to confirm arms deliveries. This does not apply to commercial drones or component parts that Russia can purchase from China without government agreements.

From time to time there are alarmist statements regarding possible Chinese military and technical support for Russia, which are later refuted. It seems to me that after all, China refrains from providing Russia with weapons or ammunition. Yes, there are confirmed facts of transfer of non-lethal weapons, perhaps small arms as well, but this cannot be viewed as full-fledged support.

There were reports about the last meeting between Xi Jinping and Putin, about the Moscow visit of the Chinese Defence Minister. Most likely, a signal was given that China will remain conventionally neutral.

- The last question is about May 9 celebrations in Russia. Now, there is a "parade of cancellation of parades" on the outskirts of the "empire", as OBOZREVATEL put it, in particular, in Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk regions. They in Russia explain it saying that a large number of military equipment and servicemen can allegedly "provoke the enemy". Do you think that today, the Russian territories bordering on Ukraine are no longer inviolable, just like Crimea? Can the Ukrainian Defence Forces really use these parades?

- First of all, the parade has a huge symbolic meaning. In recent years, Russia has given this parade an extremely high symbolic value - the military parade, demonstrations, "immortal regiment". The Russian authorities themselves raised the degree of public attention to this parade extremely high. 

It was quite an effective tool for mobilizing and militarizing Russian society. As it often happens, the principle "be afraid of your desires" worked. Now Russia is in a situation where it has to cancel these parades.

The initiative seems to come from local authorities, which cannot be ruled out. But if an instruction came from the Kremlin, they could not object. Russia is the "Soviet Union 2.0". Immediately after the Chornobyl disaster, demonstrations were held in Kyiv on May 9. If there is a command, they will hold parades even under a real threat of attacks on these columns. 

So, this may be caused not so much by security considerations but by the fact that now the Russian authorities are not sure that the parade will cause the same emotions as before. Against the background of defeats or lack of progress in Ukraine, doubts that "everything is going according to plan", this sabre-rattling evokes completely different emotions now.

By the way, this is not just my guess. This is confirmed. For example, deep in the Russian countryside, where training for the parade has begun, people ask local authorities very uncomfortable questions, quietly though. Anyway, this is not the reaction that the leadership would like to have.

As for the real threat to the border regions, for example, the official website of the Belgorod regional government reports about shelling. Of course, this is presented as an attack on civilian sites, but we perfectly understand, and the Russians guess, that Ukraine is not just shooting at a certain village.

Dozens of villages in Belgorod region were simply evicted - all residents were forcibly evacuated, these settlements are occupied by the military who make fortifications there. Ukraine fires at these positions in response to attacks. This has already become a kind of norm. For example, yesterday (April 16. - Ed.) there was an attack on infrastructure facilities in the regional centre, Belgorod.

Therefore, the territory of Russia at least within the reach of the Ukrainian artillery is a de facto war zone. Of course, under such conditions, a parade after an explosion that occurred the day before may look not too festive.





Oleksiy Melnyk

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes, Coordinator of International Projects

Born in 1962 in Khmelnytsty Rgn


Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007)

Air Field Operations Officer School, Biloxy, MS, US (2001)

Squadron Officer School, Montgomery, AL, US (1994)

Defence Language Institute, San Antonio, TX, US (1994)

Chernihiv Higher Military Air Force Academy, Ukraine (1984)


1980 – 2001 — Air Force Active Service (Cadet, Instructor Pilot, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Air Force Base Commander, Participant of two UN peacekeeping operations, Lt.Colonel (Ret)

2001 – 2004 — Razumkov Centre

2004 – 2005 — State Company Ukroboronservice

2005 – 2008 — Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Head Organisational and Analytical Division — First Assistant to Minister of Defence

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