This 12-mile bridge in Crimea is a lifeline for the Russian occupation, but attacks and damage make it a headache for Moscow

A photo of the Kerch Bridge between Russia and Crimea damaged by explosions on July 17, 2023.

While Ukraine has not taken responsibility for the attack, kyiv has repeatedly threatened to target the bridge.Crimea24TV/AFP via Getty Images

  • The Kerch Bridge linking Russia and Crimea was damaged by explosions on Monday morning.

  • The bridge had already been hit in October by a truck bomb and only reopened in February.

  • The attacks damage Russia’s economic, symbolic and military ties with Crimea, experts told Insider.

The 12-mile bridge linking Russia and Crimea is a lifeline for Moscow’s economic and cultural interests in the occupied peninsula – but recent attacks have severely damaged it, causing lasting problems for Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the responsible for the occupation of Crimea.

An explosion rocked the platform of the Kerch Strait Bridge on Monday, killing two adults and halting traffic. The Kremlin called the event a “terrorist attack” supplemented by Ukrainian unmanned drones, while Putin and other Russian officials called for tighter security and threatened “targeted and utterly inhumane” consequences. “.

“The impact on Crimea’s transport and logistical supply becomes immediately apparent,” Karolina Hird, a Russian analyst and fellow with Evans Hanson told the Institute for the Study of War think tank. “But the most important thing we are monitoring at the moment is the suspension of movement to and from occupied Crimea via the bridge, and that will obviously have implications for the Russian military presence in occupied Ukraine.”

An attack on the Kerch Bridge is far from “an extraordinary event”, as Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said, according to the Kyiv Post.

The bridge is the physical link between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, and attacks on it bring the war back to the Russians and jeopardize Putin’s successful capture of this territory from Ukraine.

The Kerch Strait Bridge between Russia and Crimea was damaged by an explosion on October 8, 2022.

The damaged Kerch Strait Bridge after the October attack.AP Photo

Last October, a truck loaded with bombs exploded on the west span of the bridge and the east span of a railway bridge, killing three people. The damage was so severe that the Kerch Bridge was closed to normal vehicle traffic until February 2023 and to rail traffic until May 2023.

Although Ukraine did not take responsibility for the October attack, a Ukrainian security service source told CNN that the group and Kiev naval forces were behind the July attack.

Kyiv has already threatened the bridge, which served as a route for Russia to transport equipment before its February 2022 invasion, and contributed to supply lines across Crimea and operational support along the southern front.

While much of Russia’s military traffic “shifted to other land bridges north” after the October attack, according to Samuel Bendett, a research analyst with the International Affairs Group of the Center for Naval Analyses, the bridge “still demonstrates uninterrupted access” between Russia and Crimea.

The most recent attack is also hampering summer tourism in Crimea, which ISW’s Hird says is a priority for Russia.

“There has been enormous pressure from the Russian authorities to really support and even increase tourism in occupied Crimea for economic reasons, and for an integration of occupied Crimea into the wider Russian system.”

Beachgoers in an active war zone? One of many examples of Putin and the Kremlin avoiding bringing the war back to their own citizens. “They don’t want to fully mobilize society for war,” Hird said.

Putin himself pointed to the involvement of the Russian Navy in bringing in more tourists, she added, calling it “cognitive dissonance” as Crimea continues to be a legitimate target area for the Ukraine, which has targeted the Black Sea area and fleet in recent months. . The result has been constant stress for the citizens of Crimea.

A satellite image of the damaged part of the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Russia and Crimea on July 17, 2023.

The bridge – and what it represents – is a sacred jewel for Putin.Satellite image (c) 2023 Maxar Technologies

Completed in 2018, the Kerch Bridge was considered a historic achievement by Russia, a relatively short and permanent way to access Crimea. And while it primarily serves to connect the two, it also symbolizes Russia’s influence and control over the peninsula, which it illegally annexed in 2014, and which Ukraine has identified as the most important territory. to get back.

But defending the Kerch Bridge is a logistical nightmare for Russia, raising a host of questions. “How do you defend a long bridge like that? Where do you place your defenses? Do you patrol around it? Do you put sensors on it all the time? Do you have maritime patrols all the time?” Bendett said. “It’s difficult to properly and completely defend an asset as big as a bridge like that.”

And the attack has serious military repercussions, especially as Ukraine’s counteroffensive pushes against deep-rooted Russian trenches, minefields and defensive lines.

“At this time, we have seen very high rates of insubordination and problems with morale and discipline in elements of the Russian forces that are deployed” in the south, Hird said, adding that the bridge made the evacuation “ much easier” and “now that this ability is inhibited, which is bound to have some kind of psychological impact on the morale of the Russian forces.”

“We could start to see some induced panic in a struggling force that is already in low morale,” she added.

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