Officials worry that a large-scale attack that threatens Russia’s hold on the Crimea could push Putin to use nuclear weapons

A Biden administration official recently told members of Congress that Ukraine has the military capability to retake Crimea, but some officials are concerned any large-scale offensive that threatens Russia’s hold on the peninsula could push Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons, say two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The late November Ukraine briefing to some members of Congress included discussion of the reasons Ukraine will continue to need U.S. weapons and equipment for the foreseeable future. The two officials said a Biden official, when asked during the briefing about continued support for the Ukrainian military and whether it would try to retake Crimea, responded thatUkraine now has the ability to take it back.

Asked about the response, a U.S. official said that Ukraine has no near-term objective to retake Crimea and that a military offensive is not imminent but did acknowledge that Ukraine has shown resilience and perseverance throughout the war. Administration officials say they believe three recent deadly drone strikes against Russian military bases were carried out by Ukrainians, although they say it’s still not clear whether the Zelenskyy government ordered them directly.

Washington and other governments have provided Kyiv with more powerful weapons, including HIMARS artillery, that have inflicted serious damage on Russian forces. U.S. and Western perceptions of Ukraine’s armed forces have changed since the February invasion, when U.S. and European officials worried Russian troops and tanks would crush their adversaries in a matter of days or weeks. Senior U.S. military officers and Western governments say Ukraine has shown ingenuity and grit in fighting a larger, better-armed military and quickly incorporated new weapons systems provided by NATO members.

The Ukrainians “continue to shock the world with how well they’re performing on the battlefield,” a U.S. official said. 

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