House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is scheduled to attend the Crimea Platform Parliamentary Summit in Croatia this week as part of a forum to discuss kicking Russia out of Crimea and returning the peninsula to Ukraine.
Her visit is intended to show America’s “ironclad solidarity” with Ukraine, the Democrat said in a statement. But while it may seem like just the latest show of support from the West, the trip could reverberate all the way to the Kremlin.
“I look forward to discussing how we can further support Ukraine – because the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself,” she said. “As speaker, it is my privilege to join our European allies and other partners from around the globe in Croatia to deliver an unmistakable statement of our solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”
Pelosi’s presence, which comes nine months after Russia’s latest invasion, proves that helping Ukraine capture the long-disputed territory is in the political mainstream in the United States.
“Her participation is a direct confirmation that the issue of the annexation of Crimea is high on the agenda in Washington,” First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar said on Monday. “With such support, Crimea’s return is closer than ever.”
Russia illegally invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, a move the United States and other Western allies lambasted. The US and the West have refused to recognize the annexation ever since.
Nevertheless, Russia has steadily occupied Crimea and has used it as a key staging post this year to transport supplies, weapons and ammunition to feed Russian forces attacking southeastern Ukraine. If Ukraine was able to capture Crimea, it would be a major blow to Putin’s grand plans to conquer all of Ukraine.
Pelosi’s support for the Crimea summit could stymie Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has previously deployed cronies to criticize Pelosi’s other visits abroad that have stoked tensions over territorial claims. When the speaker visited Taiwan this summer, China responded by announcing military exercises and promising a forceful response, as it considers Taiwan a breakaway province. (The United States does not recognize China’s claim to Taiwan.) Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Russia viewed Pelosi’s visit as a “sheer provocation” that sided with China. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakhraova added that Pelosi brought “destabilization” to the world.
Pelosi’s symbolic visit comes just weeks after an explosion damaged a key bridge to Crimea that eased crucial Russian supply routes, and underscores a dramatic shift in the momentum of the war.
In the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year, Western nations suggested Kyiv could fall to Russia within 72 hours. But the conversation has since turned not just to whether Ukraine can kick Russia out of pre-February 2022 lines, but whether Russia might be expelled from the territory it captured in 2014.
Russian forces have not achieved major military objectives throughout the offensive this year. They failed to take Kiev due to a series of logistical and planning failures and have been forced to retreat while Ukraine mounts counter-offensives. In Russia’s latest bid to win, its forces are resorting to information operations in an attempt to fool Ukraine, according to Ukrainian intelligence services. Russia is bringing new military units to Kherson – although Moscow has tried to make it appear as if Russian forces are leaving the area – in a psychological attempt at deception, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
And while Ukraine has not taken credit for the attack on the bridge to Crimea, whispers have circulated that Ukraine may be able to retake Crimea. Anti-war flyers comparing Russia’s invasion to attacks by Nazi Germany have been posted by unidentified groups in Crimea, according to Injir Media. Ukraine claimed responsibility for airstrikes against Russian military assets in Crimea, including at the Saki airbase, in August.
“Crimea is the key base for their army reserves. This is where they have their bases for ammunition, hardware and soldiers, so of course destroying these bases is an important part of the unblocking of our territory,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, a Zelensky aide, to the police. Guardian.
The prospect of recapturing Crimea is more plausible than it has ever been before, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s top representative for Crimea, Tamila Tasheva.
“This is moment X. Right now, everything is happening in a way that feels inevitable,” Tasheva told the same outlet. “It might not happen tomorrow, but I think it will happen a lot faster than I thought a year ago.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself has promised that his forces will retake Crimea.
“Crimea is Ukraine. Crimea is an integral part of our people. And we will certainly come to our cities in Crimea, to our people in Crimea and give them the freedom that is due to them by right, as well as to all our other peoples ,” Zelensky said in a speech in August. “Russian aggression began in Crimea, and its finale will also be in Crimea.”
Pelosi and the US are not alone in supporting the Crimea Platform summit this week. More than 40 delegations and more than 55 representatives of the parliament are to participate in the forum. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who serves as president of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly, has also been invited.
But the visit comes at a time when some politicians are beginning to question America’s long-term commitment to Ukraine. Lawmakers warn that Ukraine aid could be hardened in a GOP-controlled Congress if they win in the midterm elections in two weeks.
Some Republicans previously told The Daily Beast they would “absolutely not” support more Ukraine aid in a new Congress. And House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy confirmed last week that he believes the path forward for military support will be difficult when Republicans are concerned about inflation and other domestic issues.
“I think people are going to sit in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They’re just not going to do it,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News.
Democrats may need to plan ahead to erode support for Ukraine in the weeks between the election and the date a new Congress is sworn in in 2023, Connolly pointed out last week.
“I will support any legislative initiative that commits the United States and its allies to a long-term commitment,” Connolly said.
For her part, Speaker Pelosi is expected to deliver a speech covering America’s “unbreakable commitment to Ukraine,” according to her office.
“Vladimir Putin is conducting an unprovoked, comprehensive attack on Ukraine: from the ongoing occupation of Crimea to his attempts to annex additional territories to his desperate and escalating targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Pelosi said. “This week, the United States joins our democratic partners in reaffirming our pledge to stand with the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom and hold Russia accountable — until victory is won.”