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Crimean bridge explosion exposes Russian supply lines

A Ukrainian takes a selfie in front of artwork depicting the burning Kerch Bridge after Russia’s vital supply artery exploded on Saturday © REUTERS

Almost two weeks after Vladimir Putin annexed Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhia regions in a lavish ceremony at the Kremlin, Russian troops retreated there, outnumbered by men and firearms.

They now face a much bigger struggle to supply the front lines after an explosion early Saturday at a key bridge connecting the annexed Crimea to mainland Russia.

An apparent attack crashed two of the road spans of the Kerch Bridge into the sea and set rail transport ablaze near fuel tanks on which Russian forces rely to transport supplies and equipment to war zones in southern Ukraine. All traffic on the route has stopped. .

It was a very personal humiliation for the Russian president, who in 2018 drove a Kamaz truck to open a $3 billion 12-mile infrastructure link.

Built to cement Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula, the smoldering bridge has overnight become a symbol of Russia’s struggle to counter Ukraine’s advances in the southeast.

Michael Coffman, military analyst and director of the Russian Studies Program at the CNA, a U.S. defense think tank, said the loss of the rail link would “substantially reduce Russia’s ability to move troops and supplies through Crimea until it can be repaired.” will be limited,” he said. that”.

The only other supply route is through the recently annexed southeastern Ukrainian territories. But it is difficult to cross the so-called “overpasses” that Russia created by annexing four of her regions. There are few railway lines, mostly single track, and you have to cross bridges over rivers and irrigation canals in the Crimea, the Sea of ​​Azov and the Black Sea.

Ukrainian missile attacks on rail infrastructure had already severely limited Russia’s ability to resupply troops across the South by land.

Russia also lost a significant number of tracks during the invasion, making it increasingly important to restore rail supplies, according to Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews.

“It would be very difficult for them to make up for it in any other way.

The turmoil could help Ukraine expand its counteroffensive and try to take back territories annexed from Russia, O’Brien added.

Russians are “really in trouble,” he said. “The Russian army is out of shape. It’s hard to watch it go away.”

Ukraine’s hopes of retaking the peninsula, even Kyiv, were widely seen for years as fanciful.

Ukraine does not take credit for them, but the attack on the bridge is the latest in a series of increasingly daring strikes against military infrastructure on the peninsula and elsewhere behind enemy lines.

These have dwindled Russians’ sense of normalcy following Putin’s annexation in 2014 and the first six months of Moscow’s “special military operations.” Doorstep.

After Ukraine routed Russian forces in the eastern Kharkov region in September, Putin mobilized military reserves, annexed four regions and threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend them. It shattered the domestic illusion.

But that escalation backfired spectacularly.A few 100,000 Russians Those who fled to Kazakhstan to avoid conscription are just as many as have joined the army, and as Ukraine steadily advances on territories that Putin claims are part of Russia, he wants to protect them. I have lost my will.

The exact circumstances of the Kerch Bridge attack remain unknown. Russia has accused Ukraine of an act of terrorism, claiming the truck was full of explosives, even though it had passed inspections on the mainland minutes earlier.

Ukrainian officials gleefully celebrated the bombing, but while not confirming Kyiv’s involvement, cast doubt on Moscow’s account of the event, part of a security forces infighting in a blame game for Russia’s failure. suggests the possibility that

The Kremlin has allowed the Russian military to face withering criticism from state media and some officials looking for scapegoats for its battlefield failures.

Some of the war’s most ardent supporters have called on Putin to escalate it further by destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

“We are already the villains of the Western world. wrote. “Ukraine must enter the Dark Ages. Bridges, dams, railways, power plants and other infrastructure must be destroyed throughout Ukraine.”

The cause of the explosion “is not as important as the final result,” said Mykola Bielieskov, an analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv.

Russia will likely have to rely on the limited stocks of weapons, ammunition and other military materiel already on the peninsula to supply the mainland Ukrainian front in the coming days and weeks, Bielieskov said. This means that as the Ukrainian counterattack moves southwards, we may need to watch our spending rates on supplies.

The Kremlin on Saturday tried to project a sense of calm by saying Putin had ordered an investigation into the incident but had no plans to address the Russian public.

Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political consultancy R. Politik, wrote in Telegram:

However, “experience has shown that Putin always reacts very late to military setbacks … and swallows them up — instead of fighting back, he more often than not actually happens Pretend.

Within hours, officials would reopen the bridge to road and rail traffic, ensuring that Crimean locals would continue to be supplied with food and petrol, and that Russia would be able to supply Ukrainian fronts as before. said to implicitly guarantee

Russia’s retaliation capabilities are also limited by Russia’s own poor battlefield performance and failure to establish air superiority, O’Brien said.

“They are afraid to actually fly over Ukraine, so they have to do it from a lone missile. I’m so good at intercepting that I can’t do anything.”

https://www.ft.com/content/453d8aff-b8f2-42a3-919b-10a327475dfb Crimean bridge explosion exposes Russian supply lines

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