A senior Ukrainian official on Sunday outlined a series of steps the government in Kyiv would take if the country reclaims control of Crimea, including dismantling the strategic bridge that links the seized Black Sea peninsula to Russia.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, published the plan as Ukraine’s military prepares for a spring counter-offensive in hopes of making new, decisive gains after more than 13 months of war to end Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, but most of the world does not recognise it as Russian territory. The peninsula’s future status will be a key feature in any negotiations on ending the current fighting.
The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine recognise Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and acknowledge other land gains made by Moscow as a condition for peace.
Mr Danilov suggested prosecuting Ukrainians who worked for the Moscow-appointed administration in Crimea, adding that some would face criminal charges and others would lose government pensions and be banned from public jobs.
All Russian citizens who moved to Crimea after 2014 should be expelled, and all real estate deals made under Russian rule nullified, Mr Danilov wrote on Facebook.
As part of the plan, he also called for dismantling a 12-mile bridge that Russia built to Crimea.
Russia has repaired the damaged section of the bridge and restored the flow of supplies to Crimea, which has served as a key hub for the Russian military during the war.
Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the bomb, but Ukrainian officials had repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge in the past.
Mr Danilov also argued for renaming the city of Sevastopol, which has been the main base for the Russian Black Sea fleet since the 19th century.
He said it could be called Object No 6 before the Ukrainian parliaments choose another name, suggesting Akhtiar after a village that once stood where the city is now.
The Moscow-appointed head of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, shrugged off Danilov’s plan as “sick”.
“It would be wrong to seriously treat comments by sick people. They must be cured, and that’s what our military is doing now,” Mr Razvozhayev told the Russian state news agency Tass.
Mr Danilov published his plan as Ukrainian troops prepared to use newly supplied Western weapons, including dozens of battle tanks, to break through Russian defences and reclaim occupied areas in a counter-offensive expected as early as this month.
Russian troops are trying to capture the key Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut as part of their efforts to take all of Donetsk province, which is part of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas.
The eight-month campaign for Bakhmut is the longest and potentially deadliest battle of the war.
Russia’s latest rocket and artillery attacks killed four civilians and wounded 15 others since Saturday, according to the Ukrainian military.
The war that has dragged into the 14th month has reduced entire cities to ruins and killed tens of thousands.
Ukrainian sports minister Vadym Huttsait said the death toll included 262 Ukrainian athletes, reaffirming Kyiv’s call to bar Russia from the Olympics.
Vitalii Merinov, a four-time world kickboxing champion, was among the Ukrainian athletes who have been killed in the war.
Mr Merinov, who joined the Ukrainian military, died on Friday of wounds sustained in action, according to the mayor of the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk.