The bridge connecting Crimea and Russia is of particular importance to Putin

It’s a media extravaganza, Putin style. Led by a small truck convoy, Russian President Vladimir Putin drove an orange dump truck flying Russian flags over a section of the Crimean Bridge in 2018, proudly inaugurating the 12-mile colossus of steel and concrete that illegally joins the Crimean Peninsula. From Ukraine to Russia. At the end of the ride, he was met with cheers and applause.

Even during the reign of the tsars, Putin boasted, “people dreamed of building this bridge.” “Finally, thanks to your hard work and talent, this project, this miracle, has come to fruition.”

Early Saturday morning, a giant explosion sent a fireball over Putin’s crown to pay tribute to Putin’s own hard work in launching the invasion of Ukraine in February. The bridge sections are possibly the longest in Europe Found submerged in water.

An explosion across the Crimean bridge on October 8 threatened a key supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post)

when Parts of the bridge were reportedly reopened to traffic hours after the explosion, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the government did not have a timeline for making the bridge fully operational again. Initial information provided by a top Russian law enforcement agency was suggested Three people were killedIncluding a truck driver.

Ukraine, while not publicly taking credit for the bombing, publicly vowed to attack the bridge in June, calling it the “number one” target because of its strategic importance. The bridge is a key route for trains and trucks carrying troops and weapons from mainland Russia to Crimea, where they are used in the grinding war against Ukraine.

It was a strategic disaster, because of Putin’s personal identification with the bridge, and a symbolic disaster, in a war where symbols are important for the morale of a restive Russian people, on the one hand, and for Ukraine’s Western backers, for whom the most visible gains to Ukraine are not just the flow of weapons but their sacrifices, such as higher energy prices. It is also important to convince citizens that they are effective.

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Some recent gains include Saturday’s flames and collapsing roads across Putin’s bridge.

The Kerch Bridge became a symbol of Putin’s legendary personal strength, his ability to deliver major infrastructure projects, and his ambition to restore Russia to its long-lost greatness. “Even the most ambitious projects can be realized when implemented by him,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the bridge project in 2018.

It also completed Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which has been occupied by its forces since 2014.

After Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Moscow faced a logistical problem. The peninsula is only connected to Ukrainian-controlled territory by an isthmus, meaning goods and people can only arrive by boat or plane. The idea of ​​a bridge over the Kerch Strait linking Russia to Crimea was one way to solve that dilemma.

While Tsar Nicholas II and the Soviets had in the past considered building a bridge over the strait before the Nazis were forced out of the area during World War II, the idea has continued to be questioned about its cost and challenges. Due to construction, weather and terrain.

Among other things, the land beneath the strait was silt, which made it difficult to anchor a bridge. A railway bridge built by the Soviets over the strait at the end of World War II was washed away by ice just months after the first train passed through.

Putin decided to go ahead with the project anyway, and construction of the bridge quickly became a symbol of Moscow’s commitment to the newly annexed Crimea — a patriotic effort reminiscent of Soviet-era dams and canals that had been the subject of Labor-government propaganda.

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To build the bridge, Putin tapped his childhood friend and judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg, who became a billionaire during Putin’s 22 years in power, winning massive state construction contracts and becoming the target of international sanctions. Construction of the 12-mile rail and passenger bridge took three years and cost about $4 billion.

“This is a pet project for Putin,” said Simon Schlegel, a senior Ukraine analyst at the International Crisis Group. The bridge “created a link between the Russian mainland and this peninsula, which they claimed as their own.” It was literally said in steel and concrete.

The construction of the bridge, annexing Crimea after it was a Soviet-era gift to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, represents “Russia’s reclaiming of its historical territory,” said Maria Snekovaya, a postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The implosion, which comes amid recent Russian battlefield defeats and a reshuffle of top commanders, is “essentially another confirmation” that “the problem he faces is not the same as Putin’s regime has faced throughout its tenure.” said.

Amid Ukrainian provocations, Russia struggles to save Crimean bridge after fiery explosion

Those failures and the latest one, the bridge explosion, have prompted renewed public criticism of Putin’s conduct of the war in Russia’s media.

“The stupid thing to do now is to start reassuring the country that nothing terrible has happened.” Komsomolskaya wrote Pravda War Correspondent, Alexander Coates. The Ukrainians “hit a symbol,” he wrote. “The Crimean bridge is a symbol that the peninsula is securely closed to Mother Russia, and nothing can tear it apart.”

But it was strategically a logical target because the bridge, albeit symbolic, has a military purpose, providing Russian forces.

Russia should learn from Ukraine, he said. “We will fight harder, more sincerely, without excuses, about the impossibility of destroying the bridge of arms coming from the West. Nothing is impossible, the Ukrainians show us.

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Missy Ryan, Natalia Appakumova and Kostiantyn Kutov contributed to this report.

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