The Battle Over Crimea Could Trigger Putin’s Deadliest Rampage in Ukraine Yet

The Kremlin’s chief executioner in Crimea is not modest about having slaughtered some 70,000 of his neighbors.

“We need a merciless and ceaseless fight against the snakes who are hiding in secret,” Rosalia Zemlyachka told the Sevastopol newspaper. Time. “We must annihilate them, sweep them with an iron broom, a sea of ​​blood, everywhere.”

A first-hand witness to the carnage in Zemlyachka, Russian opposition leader Sergei Melgunov said the lampposts of Crimea’s largest city are “richly festooned with windswept corpses”. In the nearby beach resort of Feodosia, Melgunov and other officials said they observed Zemlyachka commandeering the town’s wells as burial pits. When the barrels were filled with tortured soldiers and civilians, Melgunov added, she strapped her victims to tables, either roasted alive in furnaces or drowned in boats in the Black Sea.

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“It is a sin to waste cartridges on them,” said Zemlyachka.

To be sure, Western leaders now grappling with the question of whether to encourage and finance Ukraine’s bid to retake Crimea are not familiar with the Kiev-born secret police known locally as the Demon.

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Yet in Moscow – a century after Zemlyachka, at the end of the Russian Civil War he oversaw the extermination by the Bolsheviks of a population almost three times the size of Key West – the Demon remains the affection of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a superstar at KGB headquarters. , and the poster ghoul for what Russia is capable of doing if Ukraine marches on Crimea.

“Ukraine will be liquidated,” are the words that Putin’s famous prime-time shill and alleged war criminal Vladimir Solovyov uses almost every night on television to awaken the spirit of Zemlyachka.

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“Russia’s military mentality is still annihilated,” says a veteran Kremlin specialist who spent years in Moscow and remains attached to a Western intelligence agency. “What has been remarkable since the fall of Kherson is that we have ever first heard Russian politicians and propagandists pushing a campaign of terror to a level reminiscent of the Bolshevik Revolution. They’re off the charts.”

People arriving from Kherson wait for further evacuation in the depths of Russia at Dzhankoi railway station in Crimea on October 21, 2022.

Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

None of this surprises the Nobel Peace Prize 2022 Oleksandra Matviichuk.

“The Russians can tolerate their war criminals winning,” Matviichuk told The Daily Beast during a recent dinner in Paris. “The Russians cannot tolerate their war criminals losing.”

Matviichuk, director of the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Center, says his organization has so far listed more than 21,000 cases of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The desecrations in Bucha, Izium and Kherson are so horrific that she and other human rights lawyers are now imploring UN member states to “develop a new definition of a war crime and a method to prosecute it,” she says.

Olena Tregub is dedicated to making sure Putin’s war criminals are losers. She is also a woman who knows her guns and ammunition. Tregub is a vocal member of the Ukrainian government’s anti-corruption committee, and his job is to ensure that every penny of foreign aid and arms cache supports a war effort aimed at hoisting his country’s flag over Crimea.

“We’re going big,” says Tregub. “We will take back Crimea. This is the only way to punish Russia for Putin’s crimes in Ukraine.”

Glorious visions of repelling Russian imperialism for centuries galvanized the Ukrainian imagination. “The fortifications of the Syvash are so strong that the Red High Command has neither the men nor the machines to breach them.” Time guaranteed his readers in 1920. “All the armed forces of the Soviets cannot frighten the Crimea.”

Indeed, General Pytor Wrangel, the German-Baltic commander in charge of defending Crimea, was so sure of victory that he created a new medal of honor called the Order of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, an award later awarded to Mother Teresa , Pope John. -Paul II, and Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman sent into space.

Back on Earth, French lieutenant general and former NATO commander Michel Yakovleff says: “I’m not convinced that Ukraine needs to get Crimea back.” In an interview with The Daily Beast under crystal chandeliers and murals of naked cherubs in the French Senate, the battle veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the NATO campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo spent the last nine months to hang out with Ukrainian politicians and military strategists.

The Antonovsky Bridge, which was allegedly demolished to prevent Ukrainian forces from crossing the Dnieper River as Russian forces retreated to their left side of the river, is seen after the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, Ukraine on November 14, 2022. The only transport route from Kherson. in the Crimea it was the Antonovski Bridge.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“We are not sure how much the population of Crimea would like to return to Ukraine,” warns Yakovleff. “An internationally sanctioned referendum may diplomatically welcome the thousands of Russians brought in involuntarily after the Russian annexation of 2014. There will be internal problems. Taking back Crimea could be a mixed blessing.”

The reaction of Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, pretty much encapsulates Kiev’s position on which side ultimately controls Crimea. “Does anyone seriously think the Kremlin really wants peace?” he he wrote on Twitter. “He wants obedience.”

But as the cable drags on in the winter, the only certainty is that the peninsula of Moscow pizhony or “elegant” they refer to as the Russian Riviera is the eye of a beer storm between Ukraine and its Western allies.

“We don’t offer a policy,” says the Western intelligence operative. “We know how Russia operates, its capabilities and its military capabilities. Most importantly, the Russians do not care about losses, and they still have a lot of air power and other dirty tricks to terrorize Ukraine beyond bombs and missiles . Too many people have difficulty accepting these realities.”

The irony of the situation is palpable. “Russia has also been deeply entrenched in eastern Ukraine for eight years,” he adds. “Then it would be easier to militarily retake Crimea than Donbas.”

Putin is defeated by what has become the most powerful army in Europe.

On the one hand, allowing Crimea to remain in Russia and home to the Black Sea fleet could be the tranquilizer that calms Putin into making peace while maintaining his power. Intelligence analysts suggest that such a brokered peace will not last.

“Strategically, you tear the Russians apart, because you don’t want to give them time to rebuild and come back, which they will do,” he says. “The longer you can force Russia to rebuild its military, the better off Europe and the rest of the democratic world will be.”

On the other hand, stained with blood, how much more Russia-induced trauma can Ukraine absorb? In 1933, at the height of the Holodomor’s two-year enforced terror, Ukrainians died at a rate of 28,000 per day, for a total death toll of nearly 4 million people. Yakovleff insists that history ensures a Ukrainian victory this time.

“Putin is being beaten by what has become the most powerful army in Europe,” says Yakovleff. “If Putin survives, he would be the only Russian leader to survive a defeat of this magnitude. His personal fate is sealed.”

On the other hand, Hanna Shelest, director of security and military analysis group Prism in Kiev, has legitimate cause for concern. “I trained NATO officers at a war college,” he explains. “The only map of Ukraine was in my office. None of my students knew the distance between Crimea and the nearest NATO country. It’s the same thing eight years after Putin invaded Crimea” , adds Shelest. “NATO has no strategic vision of Crimea.”


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