Kyiv Strikes Key Bridge Connecting Crimea to Mainland Ukraine

The Ukrainian military on Thursday struck a key bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula to the Russian-occupied part of Kherson Oblast. The strike aims to degrade Russia’s ability to resist the counteroffensive Kyiv launched earlier this month.

On Thursday morning, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed head of Kherson Oblast, shared footage showing a large hole in the Chonhar road bridge. An older, parallel road bridge that’s not in operation also sustained damage. There’s no indication that a nearby rail bridge, located a few miles to the southwest, was damaged.

The strike appears to have occurred around 5 AM that morning. Russian investigators said Ukraine fired four missiles at the bridge. Russian state media shared a video of fragments that apparently came from a UK-supplied Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile. The Chonhar road bridge lies around 120 kilometers from the front line, well within the Storm Shadow’s 250-kilometer range.

Saldo claimed the bridge would be fixed in a few days, although Crimea’s Russian-installed transportation minister said repairs could take up to three weeks. In the meantime, the minister said Russia would work on re-opening traffic in the bridge’s undamaged lane. Satellite imagery published this morning indicates Russia has already erected a pontoon crossing next to the bridge.

The Chonhar road and rail bridges aren’t the only links from Crimea to the mainland. Road and rail bridges near the town of Armiansk provide the main alternative. There are also two road bridges connecting the Arabat Spit to Heniches’k in Kherson Oblast, plus several causeways across the Syvash, or Rotten Sea. However, the Chonhar bridges provide the quickest route from the Dzhankoi rail junction in Crimea to the occupied city of Melitopol, the Russian military’s key hub in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

In addition to the various routes from Crimea, Russia could also resupply its forces in Zaporizhzhia from the east via the Taganrog-Mariupol highway. But that’s almost twice as far. There is a rail line connecting Donetsk to Zaporizhzhia Oblast via Volnovakha, but it runs too close to the front line to be reliable.

Given that Russia’s logistics system depends heavily on railway infrastructure, it’s unclear why Ukraine chose to strike the Chonhar road bridge rather than the rail one. Perhaps Kyiv wanted to disrupt the road bridge because it believes Russian forces in southern Ukraine will move back their rail-fed supply depots to Crimea due to the Storm Shadow threat.

On Sunday, Ukraine destroyed a large ammunition depot at the rail station in Rykove, Kherson Oblast, around 105 kilometers from the front line. Russia had probably been transporting ammunition to Rykove (and other nearby towns) via the Chonhar rail bridge, then trucking it to Melitopol.

But if Storm Shadow forces Russia to move those rail-fed depots to Crimea, the Chonhar road bridge would become a more important chokepoint than the rail one. Moving back the depots would stretch Russia’s already limited supply of trucks, which would have to drive farther to deliver the same cargo. That strain would get even worse if the trucks had to use a longer route.

By attacking Russia’s logistics network, Ukraine is taking a page from last year’s successful counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast. There, Russian forces depended on several bridges to transport troops and supplies across the Dnipro River. Ukraine used Western-provided GMLRS rockets to strike those bridges, forcing Russia to resort to inefficient pontoon ferries. This undercut Russia’s quantitative advantage in artillery and eventually led Moscow to withdraw its forces across the river to avoid the risk of encirclement.

In its current counteroffensive, Kyiv won’t be able to isolate the battlefield entirely. But Ukraine hopes that striking Russia’s logistics and command-and-control nodes will weaken its defenses. Prior to this week’s strikes, the Ukrainians had already sabotaged railway infrastructure in Crimea and Zaporizhzhia Oblast on June 11. The next day, a missile strike killed the chief of staff of Russia’s 35th Combined Arms Army, elements of which are fighting in Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine struck again today, hitting a base deep in Kherson Oblast reportedly used by Rosgvardia, Russia’s National Guard.

Kyiv’s success in this deep-strike campaign will depend in large part on its supply of long-range missiles. Ukraine will need to disable more bridges this time around and will have to strike them repeatedly to ensure they remain unusable. In Kherson, continual repairs allowed Russian forces to continue using the Antonivsky and Kakhovka bridges (albeit at reduced capacity) for months despite frequent Ukrainian strikes. Kyiv will also need to hit the pontoon crossings Russia establishes to replace or supplement the bridges.

Fortunately for Ukraine, the Storm Shadow carries a much more powerful warhead than the GMLRS. But it’ll probably also be in shorter supply given its high price tag, around $1 million per missile. It remains unclear how many London has already provided or plans to send. France has also said it will deliver its own version of the Storm Shadow, the SCALP-EG. But Paris hasn’t specified how many missiles it will provide or when it plans to transfer them.

Were Kyiv to receive ATACMS missiles from the United States, it would gain further capacity as well as about 50 kilometers of additional range. That would enable Ukrainian forces to strike the Kerch Bridge, on which Russia relies to transport supplies to Crimea. Because that target lies at the ragged edge of the Storm Shadow’s effective range, Ukrainian pilots would need to fly right up to the front line to hit it, putting themselves at immense risk from Russia’s potent air defenses. Tellingly, Ukraine has yet to strike the Kerch Bridge using the Storm Shadow.

Taking out that bridge would make disabling the Crimea-Kherson bridges less important. However, the Biden administration so far remains unwilling to provide ATACMS to Ukraine.

John Hardie is the deputy director of FDD’s Russia Program and a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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