Ukrainian attack on Russia’s Crimean bridge also deals a blow to Putin



  • The bridge between Russia and the Crimean peninsula was hit by a surprise attack on October 8.
  • The bridge is damaged but still standing, although the attackers also looked for psychological impact.
  • Putin touted the bridge when it was built, and the attack on it comes after others in Crimea itself.

At dawn on October 8, an explosion rocked the bridge between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

The explosion caused the collapse of a westbound span of the road bridge in the Kerch Strait and damaged an eastbound span and the adjacent railway bridge.

Ukraine had previously threatens the bridge but did not officially claim responsibility, although Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Kyiv and called him a “terrorist attack”.

Following the blast, road and rail movements across the bridge, which had seen an increase in civilian traffic following Ukrainian attacks on Russian bases in Crimea in August, was limitedwith heavier trucks crossing by boat instead.

A bridge over troubled waters

Workers restore train tracks at the Kerch Bridge that connects Crimea with Russia, near Kerch on October 9, 2022, a day after it was damaged by an explosion.

The Crimean Bridge on October 9.

Contributor/AFP via Getty Images

The Crimean Bridge is very important for the Russian war effort in Ukraine. It is the shortest land route from Russia to Crimea, and Russian forces used it to transport large quantities of material before and after the start of the attack in late February.

The peninsula is also home to important military infrastructure. It is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and numerous airports and military bases. Crimea is essential for operational and logistical support for Russia’s southern front in Ukraine, where its troops are experiencing setbacks in Kherson.

As a result of the attack, Russian supply lines through Crimea are “degraded” and logistical problems on Russia’s southern front are likely “more acute”, according to the British Ministry of Defence. said this month.

To compensate for reduced traffic on the bridges, Russia must now transport troops, equipment and supplies across the Kerch Strait by boat or re-route them through the occupied provinces of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk in southern Ukraine, which takes much longer.

Vehicles wait to cross the Russian Crimean Bridge near Kerch

Vehicles wait to cross the Crimean Bridge on October 9.

ANNA KARPENKO/AFP via Getty Images

A “large queue of freight trucks” was observed on the Russian side of the strait and Russian forces are “likely increasing the flow of logistical supplies” via Mariupol to Donetsk, the Defense Ministry said in an Oct. 17 update.

Limited damage to the railway portion of the bridge means traffic there could soon resume, the Institute for the Study of Warfare said in an evaluation after the attack.

However, the bridge likely suffered structural damage and could be weaker, requiring reductions in weight and frequency of rail traffic, according to Colin Caprani and Sam Rigbyexperts in bridge safety and blast engineering.

Russian officials have said little about the impact of the blast, but a government decree signed this month orders repairs to be completed before July 1, 2023which may be an indication of the extent of the damage.

Happy birthday, Mr. President

People pose for photos and take selfies in front of the large postage stamp depicting the burning Crimean Kerch Bridge in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 08, 2022.

Ukrainians pose with a fake postage stamp depicting the burning Crimean Bridge on October 8.

Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Although the military impact of the attack may be limited, it was not the only objective.

“The Crimean Bridge attack was partly meant to send a message,” Chris Miller, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told Insider.

The 12-mile bridge is the longest in Europe and has been hailed by Russian media as a major achievement.

“It’s a truly historic day,” Putin said said during a ceremony for the opening of the road section of the bridge in 2018. Russian leaders had sought to build such a bridge for decades, Putin said, adding that “this miracle has come true”.

The attack also took place a day after Putin’s 70th birthday.

“Because Putin is personally associated with the takeover of Crimea, any attack on the peninsula is a blow to its accomplishment,” said Miller, who is also director for Eurasia at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Vladimir Putin Bridge Crimea Kerch

Putin inspects the completed road section of the Crimean Bridge on March 14, 2018.

Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters

“The Ukrainians want to delegitimize Russian control over Crimea and show that Russia’s hold on the peninsula is weaker than it appears”, and the Russians now clearly realize that their control over the occupied peninsula is under threat “in a way it hasn’t been since 2014,” Miller told Insider.

After the August bombings, Russians, many of them holidaymakers, rushed to leave Crimea, with reports of 38,000 cars departure in one day.

This week, Putin said “average readiness” in the territories adjacent to Ukraine, probably paving the way for more measures to support the war effort. But the Kremlin war management has eroded domestic support, and the latest attack on Crimea could further tarnish Putin’s reputation.

“The war in general has significantly shaken Russians’ confidence in Putin’s abilities as president,” Miller said.

“Competence and stability were Putin’s way of justifying his repressive regime at home,” Miller added. “Now he is waging an incompetent war in a way that has destabilized Russia.”

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree in security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. You can contact him on LinkedIn.

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