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What in the World?

Attack on Crimea bridge gives Ukraine a path to victory in the war

Oct 10, 2022


Russia launched a barrage of attacks on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in retaliation for the attack that damaged a bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. The bridge is a key aspect of Russian supply lines, which has now been taken out of play, at least for the time being. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan says the attack on the Crimea bridge now gives Ukraine a path to victory in the war.

Excerpted from Peter’s Oct. 8 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

A Ukrainian attack has severely damaged the Kerch Strait Bridge, the primary supply line for Russian food, fuel, ammunition and reinforcements into the Crimean Peninsula and southwestern Ukraine. It is, simply put, the single-most important piece of infrastructure in the war. Should the damage prove to be as serious as it looks – one of the road spans has been dropped, and a fuel train is a burning inferno – it heralds the first true turning point in the Ukraine War. Kerch was not only the most important logistical flow for Russian forces, it was the only logistical flow which remained beyond the range of Ukrainian artillery. If it truly is gone, then the numbers that Russia can throw at this war do not matter nearly as much. If the Russians cannot adequately resupply, this war shifts from its present David & Goliath feel to more of a fight between two peers…with one of those “peers” being backed by the planet’s most powerful military alliance. One more thing. Kerch is only half the solution to Ukraine’s problems. Now that Ukraine has severed the supply connection, it will need to prevent the Crimea from supplying itself. It would do that by recapturing the cities of Kherson and Nova Kokhova, both on the Dniepr River. From there, Ukraine can disable the sluice gate which provides water to the Crimean Canal. Without irrigation, food production in Crimea would drop by at least two-thirds. Unable to ship in food via Kerch, the result (months later) would be a famine from which Russian forces would be unable to recover. Ugly? Yes. But this is how Ukraine wins.

Everyone, Peter Zeihan here, coming to you from a rainy morning in Santa Fe. I just got the news that the Ukrainians have managed to blow up part of the Kerch Strait bridge, which is by far the most significant development of the war to date. And I realize there’s been a lot going on in Kyiv and Kharkiv and Kherson and everything; all of that’s important.

But this is the potential game changer that the Ukrainians have been hoping for. The Kerch Bridge is the only large-scale rail connection between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which is home to about two and a half million people, most of whom consider themselves to be Russian citizens and the bulk of Russian forces both in Crimea and in southwestern Ukraine. There are other rail connections in the Donbas in Luhansk and Donetsk, but they do not really connect through to the Southwest.

The rail connections that are relevant go all the way up to the Niebuhr. So in order to get rail from the eastern stretches of Ukraine to the southern, they have to basically go right by Russian positions. And those have been within range of artillery since the beginning of the war. You can guarantee that Ukraine’s gonna be targeting those extra closely. Now, logistically it is difficult to understate the criticality of this for the Russians. Russia doesn’t have a road network. The money generated per acre of farmland is so low because it’s all short season wheat that they’ve never built one. They’ve never been able to afford it. So if you want to move things at volume, you have to move them by rail. And with Kerch being the only real connection, it is the primary way that the Russian supply Crimea and the southwestern front with not just troops and equipment, but with food and fuel. And that’s for the civilian population as well. 

That is now all in question. Now, the Ukrainians have been wanting to hit this bridge since the beginning, but they have not been able to prove to the Americans that they can get trained up or be trusted with the long-range rocket systems that would be necessary to target something that’s so reinforced and so distant. So they went old school and used a truck bomb. At the moment, damage assessments are still being done, but it is obvious that one of the two major road spans has been dropped. That is not the sort of thing you fix without several months of work. And they timed the explosion to blow up a fuel train that was going through. So the whole thing’s on fire and simply the repair from that is going to be a minimum of a week, assuming it can be repaired at all.

Excuse me. 

And now that the Ukrainians know it can be done, you can bet they’re going to try to hit other parts of it to make sure that things stay offline. Now, for the first time, we have a path forward for the Ukrainians here to win that is not long and windy. I’ve always been cautious about saying that Ukraine can win this because by the numbers, they can’t, especially with the mobilization and the Russians planning on throwing at least a half a million troops into it. I mean, you throw a half a million troops into anything, no matter how badly supplied they are, and you can, you can move the boulder and make the situation very different. And that is how Russia has traditionally won all of its wars. 

But you don’t throw a half a million people at logistics. This is something where either you have the connections, or you don’t. And if we’re talking about Russian troops in Zaporizhia and Kherson and Crimea suddenly being on their own, the Russians can only supply those three regions in two ways now. One is by truck, and we know that because of all the Javelins that have been put into Ukraine and RPGs, that the Russians are almost out of their entire military tactical truck fleet. And they’ve started using city buses and Scooby-Doo vans, and those just can’t take the volume of stuff that an active frontline needs. And they are certainly far more vulnerable to disruption. 

The second option is ships. You do have major ports at Novorossiysk on the Black Sea but, if we’re now in a situation where Kerch can’t supply things like anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles, food…it’s very easy to see the Ukrainians being able to repeat the feat that they did earlier this summer when they sunk the flagship, the Moskva, and do that to every single cargo ship that the Russians try to bring in. Losing cargo ships in that volume, you losing trucks and buses in that volume, is hollowing out the entirety of the Russian internal transport system.

This is the sort of thing that if you bleed this fast, it takes a decade to recover from. And in a war zone, that is not going to happen. Particularly since we’re in an environment of sanctions where people are getting more and more skittish about selling the Russians anything. So for the first time, the Ukrainians have a path to victory. And that’s my sign that I’m done. Okay? You all take care. I’ll give you an update as soon as I have more information.

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