As both a symbolic and strategic target for Ukraine, the 12-mile-long Kerch Bridge is posing a growing problem for Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president opened structure between Crimea and the region of Krasnodar to traffic by driving a truck across it in 2018, as if to cement the Kremlin’s claim on the peninsula it had illegally annexed four years earlier.
In what has become an increasingly regular occurrence, white smoke rose from Putin’s pet project last Saturday, after Moscow said Ukrainian forces had fired multiple guided S-200 rockets at the bridge, which has been subject to repeated closures.
“The Kerch Bridge remains a key vulnerability for Russia, and any extended closure would complicate Russia’s ability to support operations in the south of Ukraine,” Gabrielle Reid, associate director at security intelligence firm S-RM, told Newsweek.
The symbol of Russian occupation was first attacked on October 8, 2022, with an explosion causing parts of the road bridge to collapse and igniting a fire on its railway section.
Reid said that the long-term disruption that Ukraine is aiming for will be hard to achieve unless persistent attacks make Russian repair efforts untenable. Also, its distance from the rest of Ukraine, the defenses around it and the amount of planning required to conduct an attack as significant as last October’s, meant that Kyiv forcing a permanent closure was unlikely.
However, the bridge still “represents such a vulnerability that Russia will still need to diversify its supply lines where possible, though it has limited options to do so.”
“Currently, the alternate land route involves supply lines through occupied Ukraine,” Reid said. “Should Ukraine manage to sever these supply lines during its counteroffensive, by capturing key towns such as Tokmak and especially Melitopol, the strategic significance of the Kerch Bridge would skyrocket.”
The bridge’s “destruction or any significant damage would therefore pose very real challenges to Russia, forcing the identification of an alternative route capable of accommodating the same volume of road and rail traffic,” she added.
Saturday’s attack was part of a campaign by Kyiv to set up “favorable conditions for larger counteroffensive operations,” the Washington D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said.
A previous attack on July 17 saw an explosion close to the road bridge cause a section of roadway to collapse. Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service claimed responsibility saying it had been conducted by remotely controlled “Sea Baby” drones.
Disrupting Russia’s line of communications is an aim of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. which started around June 4 and seeks to recapture Russian-occupied territory. This has included Kyiv firing missiles to target Russian-controlled infrastructure and land supply lines.
But there is also the psychological boost for Ukraine’s forces and population following successful strikes against such a symbol of Russian occupation, which Kyiv does not immediately fully acknowledge.
“Hitting it repeatedly demonstrates that Russia has no power to protect even its mighty symbols,” said Sergej Sumlenny, founder of the German think tank, the European Resilience Initiative Center.
Also, the land connection to Crimea via Ukraine’s Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, which Putin has claimed to have annexed, are long and within reach of Ukrainian missiles.
“The Kerch bridge remains the main, if not only, reliable route to Crimea, enabling logistics for the Russian military group in Crimea and Kherson,”Sumlenny told Newsweek. “Hitting it makes Russia’s supplies way more complicated.”
However, he believes that Ukraine will deliberately allow the bridge to remain semi-functional, allowing a passage out of Crimea for civilians.
“It is in Ukraine’s interests that there will not be thousands of tourists when Ukraine starts the liberation of Crimea,” Sumlenny said.
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