w/c 10th October 2022
Vladimir Putin got two presents for his 70th birthday that we know of; from Belarus and its president Alexander Lukashenko he received an agricultural tractor, which was a thoughtful gift and I am sure well received. Less well received, I suspect, will have been his present from Voldymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainians – an attack on the Kerch bridge linking Crimea with the Russian mainland.
The attack on the Kerch bridge is a very significant development in the current war, and for two reasons. First of all, it demonstrates yet again how vulnerable the Russians are to (presumably) unorthodox attacks deep in their territory. Everybody has been aware for some time that the bridge was a prime target, including the Russians, and yet they seem to have been unable to deter any sort of attack on it. What other bits of their infrastructure might prove equally vulnerable?
Second, it’s increasingly clear to me that the strategic prize for both sides in this war is Crimea, offering as it does a base for control of both the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The attack on the bridge may be a precursor for a Ukrainian offensive south to recapture Melitopol and cut the rail line there which is the obvious alternative route for Russian rail-borne resupply.
This would also cut the land bridge from Russia to Crimea and threaten the encirclement of Russian troops in the Kherson Oblast, which might force them to withdraw. This in turn would bring the whole of Crimea within range for Ukrainian precision missile and artillery systems (HIMARS, Excalibur etc) and probably make the continuing Russian occupation of Crimea untenable.
The big question now is whether Ukraine can maintain its momentum as winter approaches. It has to keep winning to ensure continuing support from both the Ukrainian people, many of whom face extreme hardship, and from the west, whose weapon supplies are crucial to Ukrainian victory.