Why the Crimea bridge blast was such a blow to Putin

Putin accused Ukraine of “terrorism” after the large explosion rocked the strategically essential bridge over the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov early Saturday. Russian authorities mentioned the blast was a truck bomb assault carried out by Kyiv’s particular providers.

Ukraine has not taken duty for the incident, however its officers celebrated what was broadly seen as a daring strike in opposition to a goal that holds deep private significance for Putin in addition to its worth feeding his conflict effort.

Ukraine had lengthy voiced robust opposition to the development of the bridge, which was seen as a logo of Putin’s territorial claims to the world.

For years after the Kremlin illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, journey to Russia was solely potential by overcrowded planes and ferry. As sanctions hit and firms withdrew, the peninsula turned more and more reduce off from the world.

Putin took the venture of connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland personally, an ambition that each the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had failed to understand. He reached out to his childhood buddy and billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, who led the development. The outcome was a 12-mile construction that was accomplished in 2018, turning into Europe’s longest dual-span bridge at a value of $3.6 billion.

The bridge not solely allowed the motion of individuals but in addition shortly turned a key route for supplying perishables for residents, in addition to cargo and army gear. It encompasses a separate roadway and railway.

Putin inaugurated the bridge by main a convoy in an orange truck he drove himself. On the Crimean finish, he was met by cheering building staff, to whom he informed their abilities had made “this miracle occur.”

Putin made private appearances to have fun the development of the bridge. Yury Kochetkov / AP file

Saturday’s explosion, which got here hours after the Russian chief’s seventieth birthday, was a public humiliation.

“It was a very massive achievement for him, and this bridge sealed it,” mentioned Ledwidge of Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

The bridge, particularly the rail line, is an important artery for Russian forces within the southern space of Kherson, the place Ukraine’s army has been advancing, in addition to Zaporizhzhia and Crimea itself.

“The bridge was at all times going to be a goal both from covert ops or U.S.-supplied longer vary artillery methods, which have been the actual game-changer,” James Nixey, director of the Russia-Eurasia Programme at Chatham Home, mentioned Saturday.

“The one motive they’ll truly hold the Kherson entrance and certainly their management of Crimea, supplywise, is due to that bridge,” mentioned Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic research on the College of St. Andrews in Scotland. “If that bridge hadn’t been constructed, Crimea can be doomed now,” he mentioned, including that Russia would probably prioritize key provides to the entrance line whereas the bridge had restricted bandwidth.

Autos wait to cross the Crimean bridge close to Kerch, on Sunday, a day after a bridge was hit by a blast.Anna Karpenko / AFP – Getty Photographs

Whereas its army assaulted Ukrainian cities from the air, the Kremlin was scrambling to restore its prized possession.

The primary passenger practice certain to Moscow departed Simferopol in Crimea on Saturday night after the Kremlin introduced the primary take a look at run of the railway had been profitable, in accordance with the Russian state information company TASS. Russia’s transport ministry mentioned freight trains and passenger trains have been working in accordance with schedule on Sunday.

Street visitors had additionally resumed in some lanes, Britain’s protection ministry mentioned Sunday in an intelligence replace, “however capability might be severely degraded.”

“Conceivably the Russians can rebuild it,” mentioned Nixey, “however they’ll’t defend it whereas shedding a conflict.”

Leila Sackur, Reuters and Yuliya Talmazan contributed.

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