Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reportedly thinking of using Crimea as a bargaining chip for Putin. But the question is, are they willing to give it up? 

Putin is currently facing serious domestic issues, and defending Crimea may no longer be his greatest problem. Some believe that a joint special sovereignty status for the peninsula might be offered, but there is little trust. A joint lease arrangement that allowed Russia to keep its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol until at least 2042 was terminated by Putin in 2014.

Boris Johnson, a close ally of Volodymyr Zelensky, made a little-noticed intervention in which he stated that if Russian troops returned to the territories they occupied before the February 24 invasion, it would provide a foundation for resumed negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.

The statement does not mention a precondition for starting talks, implying that Ukraine would have to accept that Russian troops would not be removed from Crimea.

Many diplomats have privately admitted that returning the Crimean peninsula to Ukrainian control, which Russia seized in 2014 in defiance of the UN, is risky. Johnson made that point in his piece in the Wall Street Journal last week.

Smoke rises over the Kerch Strait bridge linking Russia to Ukrainian-controlled Crimea, where Ukrainian special forces seized part of the crossing in October.

Senior diplomat Henry Kissinger, writing for the Spectator, made a similar suggestion, suggesting that Russia should be forced to return territories gained since February this year. After the ceasefire, he said, the occupation of land seized more than a decade earlier, including Crimea, might be negotiated. Then, if the negotiation was unsuccessful, internationally supervised self-determination referendums might be used.

In addition to being geographically and ethnically distinct from other parts of Ukraine, Crimea is said to have 30,000 Russian troops entrenched with little chance of amphibious Ukrainian access. Some fear that if Vladimir Putin felt he was losing control over Crimea, he might act on his threat to use tactical nuclear weapons, which would terrify and hinders Washington and Europe, resulting in an escalation.