The Ukrainian military on Sunday struck a pair of bridges that Russia uses to supply its forces in southern Ukraine. These strikes may cause a larger disruption to Russian logistics than a previous strike against one of those bridges in June. But Sunday’s strikes alone likely will not cripple Russian logistics.
Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed head of occupied Kherson Oblast in southern Ukraine, said Kyiv had launched a dozen missiles at the Chonhar and Heniches’k road bridges. These bridges link Kherson Oblast to the Crimean Peninsula and Arabat Spit, respectively. The Chonhar bridge provides the quickest route for vehicles driving from Crimea to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Oblast, where Kyiv is focusing the main thrust of its counteroffensive. Saldo said the strike used SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles, the French version of the UK-supplied Storm Shadow, which Ukraine has employed in previous strikes.
While some of the missiles appear to have been shot down or missed their mark, at least two found their targets. A strike blasted a hole in the middle of the Chonhar road bridge, prompting Russian authorities to suspend traffic through the nearby Dzhankoi checkpoint. Russian-installed officials said repairs would begin shortly, but offered no timeline for their completion.
The Heniches’k bridge suffered worse damage. The strike not only tore a hole in the road but caused one of the bridge’s spans to partially collapse. The next day, Saldo said traffic had been reopened using the bridge’s undamaged lane, but only for light vehicles. While there is also an old iron bridge nearby, it cannot support heavy vehicles and these days is used mainly by tourists and fishermen.
Russia Attempted to Target Ukrainian Airbases
The night prior to the bridge strikes, Russia had launched missile and drone barrages targeting Ukrainian airbases near Starokonstantinov, in Khmelnitsky Oblast, and Dubno, in Rivne Oblast, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Russia appears to have to hit a few targets at and around the Starokonstantinov base, home to Su-24M(R) aircraft used to launch Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG missiles.
However, the barrages evidently failed to prevent Kyiv’s missile strikes the next day, as the Ukrainian Defense Ministry gloated on social media. According to the spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force, Ukrainian aircraft at Starokonstantinov managed to relocate before the Russian missiles struck. He did not specify whether Russia struck any targets at the Dubno base, but the Rivne governor indicated Russian missiles had been shot down somewhere in the region.
Russia has targeted the Starokonstantinov base on several other occasions over the last few months. In late May, local authorities said a Russian strike damaged a runway, disabled five aircraft, and caused fires in storage facilities containing fuel, lubricants, and munitions.
Ukraine Aims to Degrade Russian Logistics
As its forces struggle to advance in the south, Ukraine has sought to weaken Russian resistance by striking Russian command posts, supply depots, and key bridges. Kyiv hopes these deep strikes, coupled with attrition suffered by Russian combat units, will eventually enable a breakthrough. At least so far, however, Ukraine does not appear to have crippled Russian logistics or command and control.
On June 22, a Storm Shadow strike temporarily disabled the Chonhar road bridge and also damaged an adjacent decommissioned bridge. Russia subsequently repaired the former in around two weeks but apparently has not bothered to fix the latter. On July 29, Ukraine targeted the nearby Chonhar rail bridge. Although Saldo claimed that Russia shot down all the missiles, at least one appears to have struck the railway tracks. But the damage appeared repairable.
Ukraine’s latest barrage may cause a greater disruption. Following the June 22 strike on the Chonhar road bridge, Russian forces reportedly compensated in part by increasing their use of the Heniches’k bridge. That option is now off the table.
But Moscow’s forces still have other — albeit far less efficient — routes at their disposal. In addition, Russia can erect pontoon bridges across the narrow Chonhar and Tonka straits until the two bridges are repaired, as it did after the June 22 strike. On August 6, Russian troops were reportedly seen transporting pontoon bridge equipment near Dzhankoi. Low-resolution satellite imagery taken today indicates Russia has indeed established a pontoon crossing next to the Chonhar road bridge.
Kyiv apparently lacks sufficient missile stocks to hit Russia’s bridges and pontoon crossings frequently enough to keep them out of action. Ukraine’s best bet would be to take out the Crimean Bridge, which Moscow uses to transport equipment and supplies to the peninsula.
While not a silver bullet, disabling the Crimean Bridge would kneecap Russia’s logistics system. It would also make strikes on the bridges to Kherson Oblast less important. A July 17 strike using unmanned surface vessels (USVs) damaged the bridge. But its road section remains partially usable, and the vital rail lines are apparently still functional.
U.S.-made ATACMS missiles, which have a longer range than the Storm Shadow or SCALP-EG, could enable Ukrainian forces to disable the Crimea Bridge, at least temporarily. But despite indications that the White House was warming to Kyiv’s requests for ATACMS, The Washington Post reported last month that the administration remains opposed.
Meanwhile, Germany is facing growing pressure to supply Ukraine with Taurus air-launched cruise missiles. With a range of over 500 kilometers, the Taurus could easily reach the Crimean Bridge. However, Berlin appears cool to the idea.
For now, it seems Ukraine will have to rely on USVs to attack the bridge.