The bridge over the Kerch Strait, which connects the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with the Russian mainland, was severely damaged in the July 17 attack. This is a successful example of a drone strike.
There has been no official acknowledgment of the attack from Kyiv. But Ukraine’s counteroffensive since early June, in which it hit a vital supply line for Russia, is just one example. But the symbolic importance of this attack is also great. Because this drone attack has managed to evade Russia’s own security system in occupied territory.
The road bridge over the Kerch Strait was partially damaged before several attacks were carried out targeting the bridge and the port of Sevastopol. But those attacks did not hit the target successfully. The port of Sevastopol is the main base of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. The road bridge was damaged in the July 17 attack, but the railway bridge was not damaged. However, due to the damage to the road bridge, there has been a deadlock in road communication.
The Kerch bridge was damaged in another attack in October last year. At that time, they will renovate the bridge and open it. But reforms will take time. They are well aware that they are paying the price in this war as the movement of common people is restricted during the summer holidays.
Four weeks ago, Ukraine also carried out a drone attack on the Russian-controlled Chanhar Bridge. Road and rail bridges are also located here side by side. The Chanhar Bridge connects Kherson with Crimea.
Attacks on these less strategically significant installations may seem to some to be symbolic attacks. Especially when the much-anticipated counter-offensive into Russian-held territory in Ukraine is underway, one might question the significance of such an attack.
But this attack has to be seen in a larger context. The attack was aimed at disrupting Russia’s supply lines. Defeating Russian defenses in eastern Ukraine would require severing 1,000 kilometers of supply lines.
Crimea is a very important place in this context. South Ukraine is connected to Russia by the Kerch Strait and the Chanhar Bridge. It is a very important route for delivering logistics from Moscow to the southern Kherson region.
Kherson and further east the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions of Ukraine are crucial to Crimea’s supply of fresh water and to sustaining its agricultural industry. Crimea’s water supply is already disrupted after the destruction of the Nova Kakhkova hydroelectric dam last June.
After illegally annexing the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, Russia deployed a large number of troops there. However, Russian troops there have faced attacks from several armed groups opposed to Putin.
Russian volunteers and indigenous Tatars have become more active in Crimea since the Russian counteroffensive began in June. These armed groups in Crimea became active in August 2022 when Russian forces retreated from the Ukrainian offensive in the Kherson region.
Most important of all, other regions occupied by Ukraine, including Crimea, have similar weak spots for Russia’s defenses. The attack on Chanhar Bridge on June 22 and Kerch Channel on July 17 brought this matter to the fore.
The timing of this vulnerability is also symbolically significant.
It comes as Putin seeks to reassert his authority after a failed coup by Yevgeny Prigoshin, the head of the group of once-close friends. Prigoshin’s rebellion tarnished the image of Putin as invincible.
Another important aspect is that the attack took place in Crimea. Crimea is the only area of Ukraine that has been occupied by Russia, where the Russians were widely welcomed by the people.
Another consideration is that historical claims aside, Crimea is a territory that Russia values very highly.
The failure to defend Crimea from Ukraine’s attack certainly reveals great personal weakness on Putin’s part. The prevailing myth about the power of his government also strikes at its core.
This does not mean, however, that Crimea is falling out of the hands of the Kremlin. But Ukraine claims it will eventually take Crimea back under its control. Their claim became a little more credible.