October 8, 2022 Russia-Ukraine News

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, talks to workers visiting the road section of the road-rail bridge linking Crimea with mainland Russia near Kerch, Crimea March 14, 2018. Putin hailed the bridge, which is expected to be completed later this year as a major engineering achievement and congratulated those involved in its construction. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool/AP)

The Crimean Bridge explosion is accelerating the strategic choices Russian President Vladimir Putin must make regarding the Russian occupation of southern Ukraine.

This whole presence was already poorly provisioned, managed and in retreat. Rowdy ferry crossings in bad weather or very dangerous air cargo flights may now be necessary to bolster military shipments to Crimea and to the front lines.

Ukraine has targeted Russia’s aging transportation dependencies — particularly its dependence on rail — with slow, patient precision. First Izium, which led to the collapse around Kharkiv. Then Lyman, which leads to the erosion of Russian control over Donetsk and Luhansk. And now the Kerch Strait Bridge, which had become so vital to everything Russia is trying to hold onto in the south.

Putin now faces a series of hasty and painful decisions, all of which will starkly belie his impassive face of pride and pomposity in the face of growing signs of slow defeat.

West of the Dnieper River, his army in Kherson was besieged by rapidly moving Ukrainian forces. Putin’s troops are already in retreat, partly because of the same poor supply which will be accentuated by the explosion of Kerch.

They are again cut off from this failing supply line by another series of damaged or targeted bridges over the Dnieper. Over the past week, they have already retreated more than 500 square kilometers (about 193 square miles).

Can Moscow maintain this force on two damaged supply routes? A precarious presence may have become almost impossible overnight.

The second decision point concerns Crimea. Putin now faces the stark choice of fortifying it further with depleted forces facing resupply issues, or partially withdrawing his army to ensure their important resources on the peninsula are not cut off.

Putin must choose between nurturing his larger ambitions with a diminishing chance of success or consolidating his forces around a goal he is more likely to achieve.

One bears the risk of a catastrophic collapse, for all of his brutal adventure in Ukraine – and most likely, his reign. The second leaves him with an immediate loss of face, but a greater chance of maintaining the occupation of smaller parts of Ukraine.

Read Nick Paton Walsh’s full analysis here.

Christi C. Elwood