Ukraine wants to attack the Kerch bridge in Crimea in the first half of this year

Ukraine wants to attack the Kerch bridge in Crimea in the first half of this year
Ukraine wants to attack the Kerch bridge in Crimea in the first half of this year

The third attack on the Kerch bridge between Russia and occupied Crimea is ‘inevitable’, say the Ukrainian military intelligence services, quoted by The Guardian.

They have become a familiar sight in the skies over parts of Russia: long-range enemy drones, making their way to another target. In the biggest Ukrainian attack inside Russian territory since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion two years ago, Ukraine has carried out a series of attacks on Russian oil refineries and ports in recent weeks. On Tuesday, it struck a refinery and a drone factory in the industrial region of Tatarstan – more than 1,000 kilometers from the border.

The Ukrainian spy agency behind the drone attacks has its eye on another target: the roughly 12-mile-long Kerchi Bridge, which links Crimea to Russia. Senior officials from Ukraine’s military intelligence service GUR indicate that it is preparing a third attempt to attack the bridge after two previous attempts to blow it up, claiming its destruction is “inevitable”.

For Putin, the bridge is a tangible reminder of what he considers to be one of his greatest political achievements: “returning” the peninsula to Russia in 2014 with the help of undercover Russian troops and a referendum not recognized by the international community.

For Kiev, the bridge is equally a symbol of the illegal annexation of the peninsula. Its destruction would strengthen Ukraine’s campaign to liberate Crimea and boost morale on and off the battlefield, where Kiev’s forces are gradually being pushed back.

How a possible Ukrainian attack would play out is unclear, and there are serious doubts about the GUR’s ability to carry out a special operation against such a well-defended and obvious target. Russia has taken extensive measures to protect the bridge, beefing up air defenses and deploying a “target barge” as a decoy for incoming guided missiles.

GUR thinks he can disable the bridge soon. “We will do this in the first half of 2024,” an official told The Guardian, adding that Kirilo Budanov, the head of the main intelligence directorate, already has “most of the means to achieve this goal.” He followed a plan approved by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “minimize” Russia’s naval presence in the Black Sea.

In the past five months, Ukraine has sunk seven landing craft and large ships belonging to Moscow’s fleet in the Black Sea. The most recent, Sergei Kotov, went down earlier this month after a nighttime raid involving 10 explosive-laden Ukrainian Magura V5 amphibious drones while on patrol south of the Kerchi Bridge. GUR officials indicated that this was a “shaping operation” before another attack on the bridge.

The bridge has been hit and repaired twice before. Last July, a 3am raid by Ukrainian maritime drones caused extensive damage to the road section, which runs parallel to a separate rail section used by the Russian military to transport tanks and supplies. In October 2022, an explosion, which Russia said was caused by a bomb smuggled into a truck, caused several sections of the road to fall into water.

If the bridge were permanently compromised, Moscow would have to transport military supplies by road through occupied southern Ukraine. The route would pass through Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces, which Russia partially captured in spring 2022. Ukrainian officials believe this would significantly affect the Kremlin’s ability to launch offensives at a time when its ground forces are advancing.

Officials have indicated that Western weapons would allow Ukraine to destroy the bridge more quickly, and Zelenskiy has repeatedly asked Berlin for its Taurus long-range missile system. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far refused, arguing that this would amount to his country taking a direct role in the war with Russia and a dangerous escalation.

Earlier this month, pro-Kremlin Russian channels published an intercepted phone call in which high-ranking German military officials discussed the capabilities of the Taurus system. Experts estimated that 10 to 20 missiles would probably be enough to destroy the bridge.

Budanov’s deputy, Major General Vadim Skibitski, said he believed European politicians were wrong to fear an escalation. “What does escalation mean to us? We had two years of war. It’s a day-to-day procedure,” he said. “Russia is bombing our territory. It hits power plants and civil infrastructure.”

He added that victory was currently impossible on the battlefield, given Russia’s military superiority and the Ukrainian side’s lack of artillery shells and fighter jets, and suggested that Kiev had “no choice” but to fight at targets deep behind enemy lines, including military infrastructure, command and control centers and industrial production sites that produce “weapons and munitions”. Kiev used a standard NATO procedure known as the Center of Gravity, or CoG, he added — a model in which outsized results can be achieved by selecting and then eliminating a few carefully chosen high-value targets (According to NATO, a center of gravity (CoG) is the primary source of power that provides an actor with strength, freedom of action, or the will to fight).

In recent months, GUR has been trying to annihilate Russia’s refining capacity. Its long-range drones struck Russian oil terminals in St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown, more than 1,000 km from the Ukrainian border. There were attacks in the Oryol region, an explosion on a train in the Urals city of Nizhni Tagil, and a strike in the port of Ust-Luga on the Baltic Sea. The Tuapse oil refinery on the Black Sea also caught fire. On Friday, the Financial Times reported that Washington had urged Kiev to halt drone attacks on Russian energy infrastructure, fearing it could drive up global oil prices.

During last week’s Russian elections, there were explosions at fuel facilities in the Oryol and Nizhny Novgorod regions, as well as in the Belgorod border region, where pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters using armored vehicles made several incursions across the border. A drone was shot down near Moscow, said its mayor, Serghei Sobyanin.

Ukraine was planning to hit several Russian targets, Skibitsky said, with the help of undercover agents. Some were “Russians with Ukrainian roots”; others were non-ideological Russians recruited in exchange for payments. The “reserve” was so large that the GUR could handpick candidates for sabotage operations, he said.

But Russia’s spy agencies have now recovered from a period of being on the defensive, the general added. They have adapted their techniques, he suggested. After Putin’s full-scale invasion, Western governments, including Britain, expelled large numbers of career Russian intelligence officers stationed abroad under diplomatic cover.

Last month there was apparent evidence of the Kremlin’s renewed confidence when a Russian pilot who had defected to Ukraine was found murdered in a Spanish spa resort. Brigadier General Dmitro Timkov, the GUR’s top security official, said Maksim Kuzminov had been warned not to leave Ukraine for the EU. He ignored the advice, Timkov said.

Timkov compared Ukraine to a patient connected to machines, who is in desperate need of additional assistance. “We are connected to an infusion. We have enough medicine to stay alive. But if the West wants us to win, we need full treatment,” he said. “Otherwise we fall.”

The article is in Romanian

Tags: Ukraine attack Kerch bridge Crimea year


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