A suspected Ukrainian missile strike on a key bridge linking the occupied Crimean peninsula - some 80 miles from the front lines - is yet another indication of Kyiv’s ability to strike deep into Russian held territory. The bridge, one of just a few links between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, was a major supply route for Russian troops fighting in the southern section of the battlefield.
The Chongar Bridge, which has a gaping hole on its roadway as the result of what Russians say was an attack by four U.K.-donated Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles, is now closed to traffic. An unused bridge nearby as also hit, the Russians say. But the lasting effect of this attack is unknown at the moment.
Ukrainian officials say it will interrupt Russian logistics as Ukraine is pushing its counteroffensive slowly south and hinted at more such attacks to come. Russian officials, meanwhile, say the bridge, spanning the Chongar Strait, is one of several in the region and that it will be quickly repaired.
“The damage to the Chongar bridge is of great importance,” Yuriy Sobolevsky, a Ukrainian official on the governing body for the Kherson region,” said on his Telegram channel Thursday.
“It is a blow to the military logistics of the occupiers,” Sobolevsky said of the attack. However, “the psychological impact on the occupiers and the occupying power is even more important. There is no place on the territory of Kherson region where they could feel safe.”
Traffic is already backed up at other crossings from Crimea as the Russians scramble to reroute their logistics.
Sobolevsky likened the attack on the Chongar Bridge to Kyiv’s efforts last fall to shape the battlefield during the Kherson Oblast offensive that managed to reach the Dnipro River.
“It is also a good sign that working on such facilities directly indicates that the nature of hostilities in the south will become more dynamic in the near future,” he said. “Let me remind you that the systematic strikes on the Antonovsky Bridge took place just before the right-bank part of the Kherson Region was liberated.”
That bridge, the main Russian supply route across the Dnipro River near Kherson City, was repeatedly attacked by Ukrainian forces beginning in July, months before Russian troops fled the city in November. Russian troops were forced to build pontoon bridges over the river and use ferries that drastically limited the flow of materiel and personnel.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) on Thursday did not confirm Kyiv’s involvement but hinted that more attacks of these kind are likely.
GUR spokesman Andrii Yusov said on TV that a blow to the span would be part of an “ongoing process,” according to The Associated Press.
“If the stars are lit, it means it was done for a reason, right? We can only say that there will be a continuation,” Yusov said, paraphrasing the opening of a well-known work by Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovskyi, according to the AP.
Russian officials are downplaying the bridge attack, which the official Russian media outlet RIA Novosti said on its Telegram channel was the result of a strike by four Storm Shadow missiles. As evidence, RIA Novosti pointed to fragments found on the roadway.
“Damage to the bridges that connect Crimea and the Kherson region is another completely senseless action carried out by the Kyiv regime on orders from London,” acting head of the Kherson region Volodymyr Saldo said Thursday on his Telegram channel. “This will not affect the course of the special operation in any way - there are other land routes to Crimea.”
Saldo, who also said the attack was carried out by Storm Shadow missiles, hinted that it will cause some problems in Crimea.
“I would like to reassure the citizens: the communication with the Crimea continues - there are other ways, albeit a little longer. Food prices, if anyone tries to raise them, will be regulated. All problems will be solved. Already, the Government of the Russian Federation is taking measures to eliminate damage to bridge crossings.”
The use of the Storm Shadow in this instance remains unconfirmed. But if it was, it shows the effectiveness of the weapon - with an official stated range of at least 155 miles - and the ability of Ukraine's Air Force to strike deep despite Russia's strong air defenses. You can read more about what the Storm Shadow brings to the table for Ukraine here. And you can read more about how the Ukrainian Air Force uses Storm Shadows in our deep dive here.
This is not the first time a key bridge in Crimea has been attacked. Last October, the Kerch Bridge, Vladimir Putin's prized $4 billion span linking the peninsula to Russia, was also attacked.
It is worth noting as well that the attack comes just days after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned that Ukraine would attack targets in Crimea, as well as Russia, with donated weapons like the Storm Shadow. He said the use of such weapons would mean the U.S. and U.K. were directly involved in the conflict and threatened to hit Ukrainian "decision-making centers" if such an attack occurred.
Whether Russia carries through with Shoigu’s threat remains to be seen and Shoigu walked that back a little Thursday.
“We understand that the quantity that will be delivered in 2023 and has already been delivered will not significantly affect the course of hostilities,” he said at a Russian Security Council meeting chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the AP.
We will provide updates as more information is confirmed.
UPDATE: 3:02 pm EST—
Impressive closed-circuit video of the Storm Shadow pummeling the bridge has emerged:
Conctact the author: howard@thewarzonecom