Ukraine appears to have pulled off its second successful strike against the Crimean Bridge, which connects the illegally annexed peninsula to the Russian mainland. However, the damage inflicted to the bridge likely will not cripple Russian military logistics.
The 12-mile Crimean Bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, consists of a four-lane road bridge running parallel to a double-track rail bridge. Video footage and satellite imagery indicate a span on the road bridge collapsed following a blast near the bridge’s 145th pier, or supporting pillar, rendering two of the bridge’s four lanes totally unusable. The adjacent span for the other two lanes was also knocked loose but remains on the pier.
According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, a preliminary inspection by a Russian diver team discovered no damage to the piers. Available footage appears to support that assessment. Khusnullin said he hopes traffic will re-open on one of the road bridge’s lanes by tomorrow, while two-way traffic will resume by September 15, with full restoration by November 1. In the meantime, a handful of ferries and naval landing ships will transport passengers and vehicles from one side to the other, although capacity is limited.
Ukrainian officials said Ukraine’s navy and domestic security service, the SBU, jointly conducted the attack using unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee attributed the damage to two Ukrainian USVs. Likewise, locals reportedly said they heard two explosions just before the span collapsed. Ukraine has repeatedly used USVs to attack Russian naval vessels and the port in Sevastopol, the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The most recent USV attack occurred just one day prior on July 16.
The Crimean Bridge is critical to Russian logistics in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is concentrating its current counteroffensive. Russia uses the bridge, particularly the railway, to transfer equipment and supplies to Crimea and then on to Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Moscow also uses to bridge to bring damaged equipment back to Russia for repair.
Russia’s dependence on the Crimean Bridge has made it a top target for Kyiv’s forces. In October, a truck bomb took out part of the road bridge and set fire to fuel tanks traveling on the railway, knocking one of the rail lines out of commission. The Russians finished repairing the road bridge in February and the rail line in May.
This time around, however, the rail bridge does not appear to have suffered significant damage. Russian authorities said rail traffic resumed after a brief pause following the strike. Khusnullin said one rail track sustained minor damage that would not affect operations. Video footage confirms that railcars are running.
Why Ukraine decided to strike the road bridge instead of the more important rail bridge remains unclear. The Ukrainians may have targeted both bridges but failed to hit the rail one. A Russian Telegram channel shared satellite imagery allegedly showing four Ukrainian USVs west of Crimea traveling toward the bridge just before midnight on July 16. Perhaps two of those USVs were bound for the rail bridge but were destroyed en route.
Ukraine could deal further blows to the Crimean Bridge, including the railway, if supplied with the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The Biden administration is reportedly still debating whether to provide these missiles to Kyiv.