Vladimir Putin could soon be forced to say farewell to what has long been considered to be the top achievement of his decade-long Ukrainian campaign.
Russian forces unilaterally annexed Crimea in 2014 following a fake referendum, after which Moscow deployed a large contingent of troops to the area.
But with Ukraine now slowly pushing forward with its counteroffensive in the wider context of the ongoing war with Russia, Putin’s men have grown increasingly aware their stay in the region is now temporary.
Refat Chubarov, the Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar, said persistent bombings on the peninsula have shown to the Russians that the liberation of Crimea is now “inevitable.”
He said speculation has been on the rise about a potential timeline, with some analysts suggesting the area could become Russian-free by Christmas, but noted that while there is no certainty about the timings people are preparing.
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Speaking to The New Voice of Ukraine, Chubarov said: “They [the Russians] were sure that Crimea was ‘primordial Russian territory,’ as the Kremlin convinced them of this. They were sure, as they were assured, that no one could encroach on the Crimea.
“But when all this happened, they realised that they could not defend Crimea. This realisation is also worth a lot.
“In Crimea, everyone realises that liberation is inevitable. This is the absolute truth. And everyone, based on their expectations or they behaved, is already trying to adjust accordingly.”
The chairman said conversations have already started with Russian investors who moved into Crimea following the invasion on the need to relocate to Russia before Ukrainian troops reclaim the peninsula.
Since the annexation in 2014, Crimea also turned into a home to millions of Russians and became a leading holiday hub.
Despite the persistent aerial strikes the region has experienced in recent weeks, families have still basked under the Crimean sunshine.
But Chubarov noted the “disarray” is spreading and more people have started preparations to leave the area in the event of Kyiv’s forces reclaiming the peninsula in the coming months.
He continued: “We have already spoken about those hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for liberation.
“But do not forget that there are more than a million people who have appeared in Crimea who were convinced that this is now their land. They invested their resources there and built life plans based on living there.
“And now, realising that this is all collapsing before their eyes, they, of course, are in great disarray. Not in a panic, but they are trying to take the next steps as carefully as possible.”
He added: “We are trying to explain to them: it is best if they leave Crimea without waiting for the return of the Ukrainian military and authorities, and the restoration of our sovereignty. This would be their best option.”
Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to retake the diamond-shaped peninsula that Putin’s Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Crimea’s unique position in the Black Sea makes it a strategically important asset for whoever controls it, and Russia has spent centuries fighting for it.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the unification of Moscow and Kyiv.
But that symbolic move backfired in 1991 when the USSR collapsed and the peninsula became part of the newly independent Ukraine.
Russia kept a foot in the door, however – its Black Sea Fleet had a base in Sevastopol, and Crimea — as part of Ukraine — continued to host it.
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