Ukraine Will Retake Crimea Within a Year, Former U.S. Europe General Says

As Ukrainian precision-guided rockets continue to bombard Russian supply lines to the southern city of Kherson, while Ukrainian ground forces make gains in the northern Kharkiv region, there is growing optimism that the Russia-Ukraine war will ultimately end in an outright military victory for Kyiv.

It remains less clear how far away that end might be, and at what cost it will be achieved.

"The Ukrainians saved their country," Ret. General Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the United States Army Europe, told Newsweek on the sidelines of the Tbilisi International Conference of the McCain Institute this week.

"They've set the conditions where they can restore full sovereignty, to include Crimea, I think, within the next year," he added.

Crimea explosion 08-Aug-22
Smoke billows from a munitions depot in the village of Mayskoye, Crimea, on August 16, 2022. Russia's defense ministry said on August 16 that the fire that set off explosions at the depot in Moscow-annexed Crimea was caused by an act of "sabotage." Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

Such a prediction would have been all but unimaginable a mere six months ago, when Russian forces were still physically present within striking distance of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Those Russian forces began to withdraw in late March, however, and since mid-summer, Russian advances in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region have also stalled.

"Here we are, half a year after the start of the full scale Russian invasion, and the supposed second-best army in the world is now the second-best army in Ukraine," Hodges said. "After all this time, Russia still controls less than 20% of Ukraine's territory, and their ability to conduct further offensive operations has been all but exhausted."

Hodges says that it's past time for Ukraine's Western partners to provide the Kyiv government with the material and moral support it will need in order to achieve a full military victory.

"There needs to be a declaration that we want Ukraine to win, that we want it to get all of its territory back, that we want it to be able to defend itself in the future, and that we're going to do everything necessary to help them do that," Hodges said.

Exactly what Ukraine needs in order to achieve these goals remains a question without a publicly available answer. However, Hodges is confident that the relevant parties in Washington are fully aware of Ukraine's needs.

"We shouldn't publicly know what those needs are, because you never want the enemy to know what your capabilities are and what your shortfalls are," he said. "But I am 100% sure that the U.S. Department of Defense and National Security Council know exactly what Ukraine needs, that the Ukrainians have told them that."

Hodges would also like to see the U.S. government change the way it publicizes its material support for Ukraine.

"When the administration says, 'we've delivered two million of these, ten thousand of those, X billion dollars worth of whatever,' those numbers absolutely do not matter," he explained. "Big numbers don't matter."

"The only number that matters is percentage of requirement," he said. "What I would really like to hear instead is, 'we've delivered 80% of what is needed for Ukraine to defeat Russia and regain their territory, and we're working on the other 20%.'"

"That's the kind of data point that actually tells you something," he added.

Ukrainian officials continue to make clear that Ukraine's chances of victory depend largely on the timely provision of Western military and financial support.

Mykolaiv Cow
A cow stands in a field as black smoke rises from the front line in Southern Ukraine on August 30, 2022. Ukraine has begun a major counteroffensive to retake Kherson city and the southern region of the same name. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via GETTY IMAGES

"Next year will be the decisive year of this war," Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Honcharenko told Newsweek. "With the help of the free world, Ukraine has an opportunity to win."

Honcharenko laid out a few areas in which Western support is still lacking.

"We need more weapons, including aircraft," he said. "Ukraine is gradually exhausting its inventory of Soviet-era aircraft, and if we do not receive replacements from the West, we could be left without an air force."

"We need better air defense systems, as well as rockets with a longer range than the HIMARS rockets we are currently receiving," he added. "We also need financial support. The Ukrainian economy has been hit hard, and we can only meet our budgetary obligations with the help of assistance from the free world."

Independent analysts agree that Ukraine has the potential to achieve a total victory on the battlefield. However, the ultimate timeline will largely depend on how quickly Ukraine can obtain the types of Western weapons Honcharenko described, and how capably it can incorporate them into its counteroffensive operations.

"At the strategic level, the current situation definitely favors Ukraine, but operationally, they still need to demonstrate that they can conduct a campaign aimed at destroying Russian forces and capturing territory," George Barros of the Institute for the Study of War told Newsweek.

Ukraine's operation around Kherson is likely to serve as a kind of litmus test for Ukrainian capabilities.

"If the Ukrainians demonstrate the ability to encircle a large adversary and siege them out in Kherson, that would be a big military achievement, and it would indicate that they can also do it in other places in the east and in the south," Barros said.

However, it is likely to take several months before a sufficiently clear picture of Ukrainian achievements around Kherson emerges.

"The Ukrainians have been very smart about the way they're conducting the Kherson counteroffensive," Barros said. "They've said it's going to be slow, it's going to be attritional, and that's actually a very intelligent way to do it."

"The Ukrainians probably do not have numerical or firepower superiority in the South," he added. "It's not going to be quick."

Ukrainian success, even if it comes slowly, would bring General Hodges's prediction several steps closer to fruition.

"For the first time, we're seeing elements from the elite Russian 1st Guards Tank Army being deployed to the south," Barros said, "and by moving them there, Russia has degraded their positions in other parts of the country."

"If those high-quality Russian forces can be attritted in the Kherson area of operations," he added, "I don't know who else is going to continue defending the other Russian positions in Ukraine."

But despite the rapid reversal of Ukrainian fortunes since February 24, Barros cautioned that the war is far from over.

"From a Ukrainian perspective, it's great that we're discussing whether it's likely to end in fifteen months, or in something closer to 37 months," he said. "But I still think we're in for a long war."