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In many analysis of Ukraine's likely axis of attack, it often gets claimed that Ukraine will try to push on the southern region, to the Sea of Azov, next to Mariupol. Thus cutting Kherson/Crimea off from its land-bridge to the Donbas area and making a mess of logistics to Russia troops in the southern area.

So far, so good. What I don't get is the next step in these claims:

Ukraine will try to cut Crimea off, take out the strategically vital Kerch Strait Bridge that connects Russia with Crimea, and "just squeeze it over time make it untenable to hold."

Same claim from Anders Nielsen, a Danish military analyst @ YouTube, 8m:43 in (which I screenshotted below):

enter image description here

My question is: Given that the bridge in question was only completed in 2018-2019, how did Russia manage its logistics from/to Crimea from 2014 to 2018? What's different now? Did Ukraine allow passage to Russia goods on the mainland? Or is it because the requirements of wartime logistics are so much greater than supplying Crimea's 2 million civilians?

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  • Vote to close as off topic; you might try a military stack. But I think it's safe to say that losing control of the northern shore of the Sea of Azov would put Russia in a precarious position. Ukraine could focus its forces on a land invasion of Crimea, and could conduct air and naval sorties on the new Russian bridge without crossing Russia-controlled lands. That would make supplying Russian forces in Crimea difficult, and could lead to a tremendous loss of Russian lives and equipment in what amounts to a siege. Evacuating forces would seem to be the more prudent option. May 5, 2023 at 1:50
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    You certainly can vote for closure. But my question isn't primarily about military activities: is there any reason to believe holding on to Crimea will be less viable, for RU, under this circumstance than it was 2014-2018? Given Crimea's importance in RU's view, that definitely has a political dimension, both in how it would affect possible peace negotiations. And in how Putin might react short term upon a Kharkiv-type defeat in that area. To me, combat operations aside, it looks like a return to the 2014-18 status quo. Which, IIRC, involved RU accusing UA of starving Crimea of water. May 5, 2023 at 3:13
  • Hm. Well, Russia's interest in Crimea is certainly political: Crimea dominates the black sea, and would give Russia a tremendous economic boost merely from commercial seaports. Prior to 2018 Russia's position was stable but weak; they couldn't really take advantage of the situation without overland routes through Donbas (hence the war). Without those overland routes they are back to pre-2018 weakness without the same stability (since it's now an active war zone). That still strikes me as a military issue, not a political one, but we'll see. May 5, 2023 at 4:13
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    I think that main difference comparing to 2014-2018 is that now Russia has shown as an aggressor and Ukrainian hostilities against Russian logistics are considered justified. May 5, 2023 at 6:46
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    Voting to reopen - while the premise of the questions might be speculative, the questions asked at the end are factual enough to be answered. The questions also have enough political elements to be relevant for this SE. And there is already an answer that has been accepted.
    – sfxedit
    May 6, 2023 at 15:59

3 Answers 3

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Meh, to speculate on the speculation, if they did cut off the bridge, then Russia would be back to ferries etc.

The use of the ferry rose sharply after the [2014] annexation, and in June 2015, the ferry operator considered a daily passenger count of 11,000 normal.

Alas, English Wikipedia doesn't give any freight figures for those ferries. The Russian wikipedia has some:

By 2012, the volume of transportation carried out by the crossing reached 600,000 passengers, 50,000 vehicles and 10,000 tons of cargo per year. [...]

For the [2014] year, the traffic volume amounted to 2,900,000 people and 701,000 cars.

After the [winter 2014-2015] reconstruction, the capacity of the Kerch ferry crossing was increased to 50,000 passengers, 10,000 cars and 1,000 trucks per day.

In 2015, the traffic volume amounted to 4.7 million passengers, 1,070,000 cars, 250,000 trucks and 77,000 wagons [train cars, surely]. For 2016 - 6.248 million people, 1.289 million cars, 296 thousand units of freight transport and 50.9 thousand buses.

And given Ukraine has demonstrated some ability to use maritime drones to attacks ships, they might be able to disrupt ferries too, assuming they've got some place closer to launch them from (like Mariupol). Lately Russia has managed to put up a good defense against those drones though. One Western site reported 6 layers of nets around Sevastopol, and the port entry half-walled with barges too, but it's one thing to defend a port like that, and another to protect ferries crossing. Nevertheless, attacking them ferries might be easier said than done, because the ferry crossing points are in fairly well protected area, inside the straight, if you look at a map.

There are some anti-ship missiles that might be able to hit the straits from the coast between Mariupol and Berdyansk (like Harpoon Block II+ ER) but I'm not sure Ukraine has any of those.

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    Deliberately firing missiles at ferries could also cost political support, unless they can make a clear case that the ferries carried military supplies.
    – o.m.
    May 5, 2023 at 6:03
  • @o.m. Still it is much lower cost now than in 2014-2018 when both sides tried to seem peaceful. May 5, 2023 at 6:49
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    Isn't every island of the world without any bridge back to ferries? Like Ireland, Sicily, Sri Lanka, ... May 5, 2023 at 6:53
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    Even without attacking the ferries themselves, that link is a weak pinch point. It looks like the eastern terminus is still Port Kavkaz, at the end of the Chushka Spit. That has one road and one railway line, running right next to each other, so the link to the ferry is almost as vulnerable as the bridge, if easier to repair. (partly @o.m., partly @ Fizz)
    – Chris H
    May 5, 2023 at 9:20
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    @ChrisH: yeah, I'm reminded Russia did that too around the Zatoka bridge. They not only hit the bridge but pounded the neighborhood with cruise missiles. youtube.com/watch?v=dDVqoq3eyjc More recently they hit the bridge pylons with a maritime drone (a first for Russia). May 5, 2023 at 9:37
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After the active phase of Russia's occupation of Crimea ended and Russia "annexed" Crimea, the level of hostilities along that Russian-Ukrainian border was essentially reduced to nothing. There were points of contention (blocked water channel and such), but they were not actively fought over.

This is unlike the hostilities between Ukrainian army and the Russian occupational forces in the Eastern Ukraine acting under the guise of make-believe self-proclaimed separatist state-like entities.

Before the Russian escalation of the war (on February 24th, 2022), the relations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine were mostly normalized.

Even the border crossings, in either direction, did not require visas. So supplying civilian trade needs, over regular highways, was not an issue.

Supplying military forces, during an active war, is an entirely different endeavor from supplying regular civilian trade routes during a period when a conflict is presumed to have been settled.

Crimea is home to Russia's military bases, military hospitals, and naval bases. So any supplies attempting to reach Crimea through Ukrainian territory, controlled by Ukraine, would almost certainly be regarded as supplying the enemy forces and would be either seized or destroyed.

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  • Are you saying that pre-2022, and especially pre-bridge, Crimea depended on overland transfers through Ukraine, that those were allowed and that the ferry on its own would not have been enough? Because that is very much what I am asking. I am aware that combat operations require massive freight - RU forces in Kherson were hampered after the bridge was blown up. But the ferries are quite far from UA mainland - past HIMARS in any case. Rather than combat ops, I am more interested if Crimea can be sustained by RU assuming ferries are working and limited RU combat operations on peninsula. May 7, 2023 at 3:17
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica looking on Google maps, Crimea is connected to Ukraine's mainland by E97 and E105. In the 2016 versions of their Wikipedia pages ( E97 E105 ) I don't see any mention of their being closed off. I do see that E97 was "interrupted" by a ferry because the "Kerch bridge" was not completed yet. Maybe the ferry was used, but given that there was no-visa travel b/n the 2 countries, I think the hw's were too.
    – wrod
    May 7, 2023 at 5:39
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica and I am not assuming that the highways were used because the ferries weren't enough, but because driving a truck over a highway is just a simpler way to transport goods.
    – wrod
    May 7, 2023 at 5:40
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Prior to 2022, Russia just needed to move supplies to Crimea, and they didn't have to worry about those supplies being attacked. Now they have more supplies they need to move and those supplies are subject to being attacked, but more than that, they have soldiers that they need to redeploy as the battlefield situation changes. If they lose their land bridge, then redeploying forces between the Southern front versus the Eastern one becomes very difficult. They will have to decide between moving most of their forces out of the Southern front, withdrawing to Crimea and relying on fortifications and geography to keep Crimea, or leaving a significant force in Crimea, leaving the Eastern front vulnerable, and whichever option they choose, it will be difficult to change on the fly. Ukraine can simply attack whichever front is weaker, and if Russia tries to redeploy, Ukraine will be able to redeploy their troops in response much more quickly than Russia can move theirs. Ukraine can move troops from Kherson to Bakhmut over a distance of about 600 km, traveling through friendly territory with multiple roads. If Russia loses their land bridge, moving troops from Kherson to Bakhmut means going close to twice the distance, through an isthmus and then a bridge.

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