The bridge of kerch he is an immobile witness to everything that has changed in the war in Ukraine in the last year. The first Ukrainian attack on the structure that links the Crimean peninsula by road to Russian territory was on October 8, 2022. At that time, the fear of irritating Putin was still our daily bread, to the point that Ukraine he did not openly acknowledge his attack. Russia had not yet lost the north of Kherson and Zaporizhia and was in the midst of a change in the command structure: General Sergei Surovikin took over the reins of the “special military operation” that same day, replacing Alexander Dvornikov.
Surovikin himself was in charge of responding to the attack with a brutal wave of bombardments that caused hundreds of deaths among civilians in Ukrainian towns, some as far from the front as Lviv, almost on the border with Poland. Nine months later, the Kerch bridge has again been the target of an attack by underwater drones. The damage seems minor (at least the train tracks seem to be able to continue fulfilling their function), but the main objective has been achieved: scaring away Russian tourists from Crimea, one of the great holiday destinations. The images of the area show tens of kilometers of retentions caused by the flight of thousands of people towards Melitopol, still in Ukrainian territory. The economic damage to Russia will be noticeable.
What else has changed between the two attacks? First of all, the protagonists: Surovikin is missing right now. It is assumed that he was arrested and investigated for his possible relationship with the coup attempt by Prigozhin and the Wagner Group on June 24. Vladimir Putin, for whom the Kerch bridge is enormously important as it is the great megalomaniac work of his presidency, has not come out to condemn the attack at the moment nor is he expected in the area, as he did in October 2022 (one of the only two documented occasions in which he has set foot on occupied territory since the war began).
In fact, Putin has a serious credibility and trust problem right now, between continued threats of insurrection and the general discontent of the army on which he depends to reassert his autocracy. Ukraine was probably aware of this and that is why this attack was chosen at this time. An attack, by the way, that this time has been claimed without complexes or guilt, a sign that fear, fortunately, is disappearing.
This is not to say that Russia does not have the capacity to respond. Presumably there will be another massive bombing attempt, but Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses are nowhere near what they were nine months ago. For now, he has limited himself to announcing, with dignity, the breaking of the agreement with Ukraine, Türkiye and the United Nations to bring the abundant Ukrainian grain to the European Union and Africa through the Black Sea. It must be remembered that, in practice, Russia controls the entire maritime passage between Ukraine and Turkey and can afford to threaten millions of people completely unrelated to the conflict with tremendous famine.
[Rusia obligará a sus funcionarios a deshacerse de sus iPhone por temor al espionaje de EEUU]
Now, this news, although it is formalized today, is not exactly new. Russia has spent weeks announcing its willingness to withdraw from the trade agreement. The official excuse is that it only serves to enrich Ukraine and they insist that their “goodwill gesture” is not being appreciated by the European Union, which continues to send weapons to its enemy. The unofficial one is that Russia is not only unhappy with the European Union, but with Turkey itself, which recently released several of the Azov Battalion prisoners that Putin had left in Erdogan’s custody, in addition to voting in favor of the entry of Sweden -historical Russian enemy- in NATO.
Behind all these grievances and reprisals, of course, also hides the fact that things are not going well for Russia on the battlefield. Ukraine is not getting the fronts to collapse as happened last summer-autumn in Kharkiv and in Kherson, but that was already impossible a priori. The objective, as we have been saying, is for this collapse to reach the medium-long term, by hitting the rear and cutting the lines of communication. In this sense, the attack on the Kerch bridge is also of great military importance. That is where troops and supplies pass from Russia to Crimea and then from Crimea to the Melitopol-Berdiansk-Mariupol axis.
🇺🇦🇷🇺 Another view of the damage to the destroyed area of the Crimean bridge. Some sources indicate that it would have been a Ukrainian attack with unmanned surface vehicles (USV). pic.twitter.com/Z8JOn0UXjU
— Deciphering the War (@descifraguerra) July 17, 2023
Bakhmut and Mariupol
Apart from this slow erosion of the Russian defensive structures, advances are still taking place in different areas of the front. This Sunday, the Ukrainian armed forces released a video from inside Bakhmut, a city reduced to ashes. Although it is impossible to verify the date of the video, it is clear that Ukraine wants to send the message that it has already managed to enter the city after weeks of surrounding it so much from the north (Berkhivka) and south (Klishchiivka). Whether the goal is to drive out the occupation troops or, more likely, force Russia to send more men and thus leave other areas unprotected, we will find out shortly.
On the other hand, the advance continues on the western slope of the Mokri Yali river, south of Velyka Novosilka. After the liberation of Makharivka, the Ukrainian troops would already be able to control a good part of Staromaiorske and the siege would continue on Urozhaine, a particularly important city because it is located on the other side of the river… and just gives access to the T0518 road. Control of any roads is very important, because the Russians rarely mine them. -obviously, they themselves need them to be able to transfer their reinforcements- and the advance is consequently faster.
💬 The Investigative Committee of Russia: A criminal case has been opened for “terrorist act” in connection with the Crimean bridge incident.
One of the sections of the bridge was damaged after a terrorist act by the Ukrainian secret services.
— Russian Foreign Ministry 🇷🇺 (@mae_rusia) July 17, 2023
In this case, the T0518 ends at Nikolske, just over a dozen kilometers from Mariupol. Although all of this is going to be very slow and very careful, the possibility of Ukraine recapturing two of the great symbols of Russian cruelty in its invasion would be a most potent image. Both Bakhmut and Mariupol are symbols of Ukrainian resistance on the one hand and Russian war crimes on the other. His return to legality has to be one of the great objectives of the Zelenski and Zaluzhnyi army. It would be a very powerful message both to your neighbor and to the international community.