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Intelligence: Russian occupying forces in Crimea preparing for defense
The Russian military keeps "a powerful ground and aviation component" in Ukraine's Crimea, building fortifications and preparing for defense on the occupied peninsula, Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy chief of Ukraine's military intelligence, said on March 16.
According to Skibitskyi, nearly 90 combat aircraft and 60 attack helicopters are currently stationed in illegally annexed Crimea.
Russian troops reportedly set up a special group on the peninsula, now assembling fortifications and defense lines as Moscow maintains its military infrastructure in Crimea in combat readiness.
The deputy head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate said that Russian occupying forces concentrated their efforts on the north of the Crimean peninsula and Kherson Oblast's south.
Skibitskyi added that Russian troops were digging trenches on the beaches in the potentially most dangerous areas where an amphibious naval operation could take place.
The Crimean peninsula has been under Russian occupation since 2014 following a fake referendum staged by Russia to annex the territory.
Since then, many local residents have been imprisoned for resisting the occupation, while Russian citizens flocked to the peninsula. The Russian military has also established a military base there.
Zelensky has vowed since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion to return all of Ukraine's territory, including Crimea.
On Feb. 18, retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, who commanded U.S. troops in Europe, told Ukrainian publication Ukrinform that Ukraine has a realistic chance to liberate Russian-occupied Crimea by the end of the summer if it gets long-range missiles.