West Warming to Ukraine Crossing Putin's Red Line: Ukraine

Western officials are warming up to the idea of Ukraine crossing Russian President Vladimir Putin's red line to take back Crimea, a Ukrainian official said.

Tamila Tasheva, Ukraine's representative for Crimea, said in an interview with the Daily Beast that Western leaders have changed their tone on the idea that Ukraine could take back Crimea, which is widely seen as a red line for Putin that could result in an escalation of the ongoing war.

"We heard from Western leaders that...if we come back to Crimea, that there would be an unavoidable escalation, that might even provoke a nuclear conflict," Tasheva said, without specifying which leaders. "The rhetoric has been changing since we explain more and more what Crimea is, what it means for Russia, and how things are connected around Crimea."

Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the region has remained a focus of the current war for Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In February, Politico reported that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a virtual meeting with experts and said that Ukraine retaking Crimea would be a red line for Putin, as the Russian president considers the region as part of Russia and not Ukraine.

This photo taken on August 16, 2022, shows smoke billowing from a munitions depot in the village of Mayskoye, Crimea. Inset: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with the Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin in Saint Petersburg on October 9, 2022. On Wednesday, March 15, 2023, a Ukrainian official in Crimea said that Western leaders have changed their tone on Ukraine taking back Crimea. STRINGER/AFP; GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

In recent months, Russia has accused Ukraine of attempting to attack parts of Crimea. On March 1, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian forces stopped a "massive" Ukrainian drone attack in Crimea. Additionally, Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of Russia's Bryansk region, said in a post on his Telegram channel that Ukrainian troops attacked the Klimovsky district and "Saboteurs fired at a moving car."

"As a result of the shelling, one resident was killed, a 10-year-old child was wounded," the Telegram post said.

Zelensky spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos one month earlier and told world leaders that Crimea was Ukraine's land.

"Crimea is our land, our territory, our sea, and our mountains. Give us your weapons and we will bring our land back," Zelensky said.

While it is unclear which specific Western leaders Tasheva is speaking about, during a discussion last month at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said, "Russia has turned Crimea into a massive military installation...Ukraine is hitting them, and we are supporting that."

The comments by Nuland sparked a response from the Russian Embassy in the United States which issued a statement saying "inciting Kyiv criminals to attack Crimea is the same as pushing them to attack Moscow or Vladivostok."

Last month, William Reno, professor and chair of the political science department at Northwestern University told Newsweek that "while the White House holds to the line that Crimea is part of Ukraine, some officials note that Ukrainian capacity to hurt Russia in Crimea may strengthen Ukraine's hand in eventual negotiations."

Newsweek reached out to the Ukrainian and Russian ministries of foreign affairs via email for comment.

Update 3/15/23, 2:36 p.m. ET: This article was updated to add further context about fighting near Crimea.