Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 was followed by the building of infrastructure facilities. Many of them are of military importance, and the Crimean Bridge is no exception: it has significantly improved the logistics capabilities of the aggressor state. In addition, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin attended its opening, giving the new construction a particular sacred significance.
Read more about the history of the illegal “crossing”, learn how it is used as a military object, and under what circumstances the Crimean Bridge will be destroyed.
2018, Putin, another “pompous performance”
The Crimean Bridge was built to connect the temporarily occupied Crimea to the territory of Russia through the Kerch Strait. The illegal construction began in 2016 and resulted in the 19-kilometer-long bridge, supported by 596 piers and 7,000 piles.
The opening of the road part of the bridge took place in mid-April 2018: a convoy led by a Kamaz truck with Putin at the helm was the first to cross. He was also the first to use the railroad part of the bridge in the cab of a train from the temporarily occupied Crimea to the Taman station in Russia.
These facts show how large-scale developments in Russia are designed to reinforce the personality cult of the Russian president and the power of the state. However, it was not Putin’s idea to create such an artificial connection to the Ukrainian peninsula in the first place.
Similar ideas were voiced in the 1990s, but due to the large budget, they were never implemented. The final cost of the Crimean Bridge was estimated at 227 billion rubles (about $2.3 billion at the moment). For Putin, the construction of the “Kerch Bridge” (another name for the Crimean Bridge) became especially relevant after an unsuccessful attempt to cut a land corridor to the occupied Crimea from the Mariupol direction back in 2014.
Ukraine claims before the International Tribunal under the Law of the Sea Convention that the bridge was constructed illegally.
The meaning of the Crimean Вridge for Russia
In addition to the obvious goal of integrating temporarily occupied Crimea with the territory of the Russian Federation, the aggressor state wanted to reduce the economic and financial losses of maintaining the peninsula in the future.
Of course, the increase in political “dividends” from the occupation has played a role, as Crimea has been used as a springboard for Russia; it has been militarized since 2014 and used to influence in the region. The bridge increased restrictions on free shipping in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, and also improved Russian military and logistical capabilities.
The Crimean Bridge is systematically used for the transfer of military equipment and personnel of the Russian Armed Forces to continue attacks on Ukraine. It has also played a significant role in Russia’s “Syrian express”, as military contingents, weapons, and military equipment have been repeatedly transferred from the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea to Syria. Russians also carried out illegal trade activities with the Syrian Arab Republic from the ports of Crimea, as reported back in 2016 by the Ukrainian media Krym.Realii.
Who blew up the Crimean Bridge?
In October 2022, explosions began on the Crimean Bridge, which had been actively used by Russian forces to transfer weapons and personnel to the south of Ukraine. After the second attack on the Crimean Bridge on July 17, 2023, one span of the roadway flew off its supports, and another was damaged.
The head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Malyuk, told CNN that Ukraine was behind those attacks on the bridge. In particular, for the latter one, a sea drone called a “Sea Baby”, developed already after the full-scale invasion, was used.
On August 12, 2023, a haze appeared on the Crimean Bridge once again. The occupation administration of Crimea reported that their air defense system had allegedly shot down two missiles. The next day, in his address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “(…), a very eloquent smoke on the Crimean Bridge and not only – all this is evidence that we will not leave any crime of Russia unanswered.”
The fate of the Crimean Bridge in a full-scale war
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, representatives of the Ukrainian government have repeatedly stated that the bridge will be dismantled safely without harming the environment of the peninsula if it lasts until the end of the war. This was also stated by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Aspen Security Forum: “It is clear to us that this is an enemy facility built outside the framework of international law, so it is clear that this is our target and any target that brings war, not peace, must be neutralized.”
As long as Crimea remains occupied and the Crimean Bridge is used to transport weapons and troops to continue Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is considered a legitimate military target. The only function of the Crimean Bridge Ukraine can agree to is the withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea back to Russia. Every temporarily occupied part of Ukraine will be liberated, and the bridge – both as an illegal military infrastructure of the aggressor and as a symbol – will be dismantled.