Military escalation in Ukraine war
The start of October has seen a significant escalation in the war in Ukraine, with an attack on the Crimean bridge, connecting the annexed Crimea with mainland Russia, and a wave of missile strikes on Ukrainian cities not seen since the beginning of the invasion.
The 19 kilometer-long Crimea Bridge is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grand symbolic projects — he personally opened it in 2018.
- The attack was carefully timed. A truck laden with explosives was detonated on the road bridge just as a fuel train was crossing the adjacent railway. As a result, three spans of the road bridge collapsed. It is estimated that repairs will take several months. Traffic was partially restored Saturday, but the Russian authorities were forced to revert to maritime cargo services for trucks and passenger buses.
- Officially, Russia has said there were five victims: the driver of the truck that exploded and four individuals who happened to be on the bridge at the time.
- As in similar incidents, Ukraine did not officially acknowledge any role in the explosion. However, sources told The Washington Post and two Ukrainian publications (1, 2) that Ukraine’s secret services were responsible. According to a semi-official account circulated by sources in Russian law enforcement agencies, the driver of the truck was hired ‘blind’ and believed he was carrying an ordinary load. It is impossible to confirm the accuracy of this account.
The Russian authorities have repeatedly insisted that attacks on the Crimean Bridge would be a “red line.” Former president Dmitry Medvedev even threatened to unleash ‘doomsday’ on Ukraine. Back in spring, after Ukraine’s first shelling of border areas, the Defense Ministry threatened Kyiv with “strikes on decision-making centers,” although no such attacks were forthcoming. The radical pro-war lobby has long criticized the Russian government for not making good on these threat.
That criticism intensified following the attack on the bridge. Influential pro-war Telegram channel Rybar advised the Kremlin “at least to refrain from making loud noises about ‘decision-making centers’ this time: for a long time, this has done more harm than good.” Igor Strelkov, a former FSB officer and rebel commander in Ukraine, compiled a sarcastic list of 15 reasons why the Kremlin believes the attack on the bridge is nothing to worry about. One pro-war blogger even reworked a famous revolutionary song, ‘Varshavnyak’ with the lines ‘Hit the decision-making centers! You promised, you gave us your word!’.
It is not easy to assess how much Russia’s “patriots” influenced the authorities, but the Russian army launched intense missile strikes on Ukrainian cities Monday morning.
- In total, 83 cruise missiles were fired at Ukrainian cities. Ukraine’s defenses shot down 43. At least 16 major cities were hit, including some in Western Ukraine.
- For the first time since the spring, Kyiv was hit by missiles. At least four hit civilian targets: a square in the city center, a busy intersection, a footbridge in a downtown park and a business center. Russia’s Defense Ministry made its traditional claim that the strikes only hit military and infrastructure targets.
- The latest figures suggest that 11 people were killed in the morning strikes, with a further 87 injured.
- The main targets were infrastructure, particularly power plants. There are confirmed reports of explosions at power stations in Kyiv and Lviv, while the energy networks for Ukraine’s railway have likely been damaged. The country’s authorities are urging people to save electricity, asking citizens not to turn on the lights this evening and minimize the use of electrical appliances to ease the load on a weakened power grid.
Putin described the morning strikes as a response to the attack on the bridge. He warned of further raids “if we see further attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on our territory.” Medvedev, who was silent for two days after the attack on the bridge, described the strikes as “episode one” and promised more.
So-called patriots were celebrating after Moscow finally struck “decision-making centers.” Anton Krasovsky, head of the Russian-language output at state-funded media outlet RT, posted a video after the raids in which he danced on his balcony in his pajamas with the symbol ‘Z’. However, blogger Rybar warned that the effect of one-off missile attacks can only be maintained if these strikes become regular and systematic.