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A bridge too far

A bridge too far

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A huge explosion has damaged a bridge linking Russia and Crimea. Why has it triggered such a furious response from the Kremlin?

“This was the first traffic to cross the newly opened Crimea Bridge. Construction trucks, one driven by Vladimir Putin himself, sped the 19km across the Kerch Strait. It was a moment of high symbolism of Russian control over Crimea. So potent for the Kremlin to pass up.”

CNN report, 2018

Four years after illegally annexing the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea, Vladimir Putin achieved something that both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had failed to do. 

He opened a bridge connecting it to Russia.

Stretching over the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov, it became Moscow’s only direct road link to Crimea and was an emblem of Russian power, described by government controlled media as the construction of the century.

But that was 2018.

And this is 2022.

“It was an obvious target… and not quite as secure as Russia must have hoped”

Sky News report

At 6am on Saturday morning, a fireball engulfed the Kerch bridge.

“A massive explosion tearing one section of the bridge apart early Saturday morning one day after Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday.”

Sky News report

Three people were killed.

A senior Ukrainian official told the New York Times that Ukraine was behind the attack, loading a bomb onto a truck driving across the bridge.

Soon after the explosion, an aide to the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted: “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning.”

Vladimir Putin responded with a sigh, calling it a terrorist act.

And then, with dozens of missiles.

“Good morning to you. We start with breaking news reaching us of large explosions heard in Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv in the last half an hour.”

Sky News report

Other cities like Lviv in the far west of Ukraine also found themselves under fire for the first time in months. 

A BBC reporter in Kyiv, who was live on air at the time, was forced to take cover, as civilian targets, including a playground, were hit.

“Was hit by a dozen…”

BBC News report

Vladimir Putin threatened even more attacks.

“In case of continuation of terrorist attacks on our territory we will respond in a very harsh manner.”

Vladimir Putin addresses Russian security council

Why then has the explosion on the bridge caused such a severe response?

***

With his army forced into hasty retreats across Ukraine, Vladimir Putin was already under pressure at home. 

Powerful voices like that of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have been openly critical of the progress of the Russian invasion.  

So it’s little wonder that Vladimir Putin felt the need to respond to an explosion on the bridge he once called ‘a miracle’.

But it’s more than just an emblem of Russian power. It’s also strategically important, because it’s a vital supply line for the Russian army that’s struggling to hold onto land in southern Ukraine.

And it embodies, too, the success Russia has had in controlling the Crimean peninsula over the past few years.

A long way from Kyiv, deep in Russian-occupied territory, you would’ve expected the bridge to have been safe from Ukrainian attack. But not anymore. 

For Ukrainians who hate all that the Kerch bridge signifies, the explosion is a morale boost before the cold winter sets in.

And it’s also, possibly, a statement of intent from Ukraine. 

Successes against Russian forces elsewhere in the country have inspired talk about trying to take back the Crimean peninsula.

“A Russian ammunition depot blew up this morning in the peninsula’s northeast. Last Wednesday, half a dozen explosions destroyed multiple Russian jets at the Saki airbase.” 

PBS NewsHour report, August 2022

So if Ukraine was behind the bridge attack, its message was clear.

Even territory claimed by Russia before its full scale invasion is fair game. 

We could come for Crimea too.

Vladimir Putin’s response has been to signal that in Ukraine, as his war grinds on, nowhere is safe.

And that, even as his army struggles on multiple fronts, any attempts to undermine his power will be met with brutal force.

This episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Sean Collins.



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