By Neeraj Rajput
Since Monday morning, the strategic Kerch bridge connecting the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula has been out of bounds for thousands of traffic commuters.
The reason was another attack on the Kerch (or Crimea) Bridge. Is it Ukraine’s new (another) counter-offensive strike against mighty Russia, or the 17-month-old war has now entered into an unconventional domain?
Two persons were killed, and one girl was injured in the attack, which Russian authorities say was the handiwork of Ukraine. According to Russia, “The attack on the Crimean Bridge was carried out at 3.05 am (Moscow time) by two Ukrainian unmanned surface vehicles.”
“The decision to attack the Crimean Bridge was made by Ukrainian officials and military with the participation of the US, UK special services,” the Russian Foreign Ministry alleged. Russia took time to declare the attack as by adversary and called it an ‘accident’ initially and then an ’emergency.’
Only after the Ukrainian intelligence agency SBU on its Telegram channel posted a modified version of a folk song with lyrics “a bridge going to sleep” that Russia alleged the attack was carried out by Ukraine.
The Crimean Bridge, which was inaugurated by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin by himself driving a truck to reclaim authority on the Crimean Peninsula in 2018, was closed for vehicular movement on Monday after the attack.
The Crimean Peninsula was captured by Russian armed forces in 2014 from Ukraine in a ‘bloodless coup.’ The Ukraine armed forces had surrendered the whole Peninsula without firing a bullet at Russia.
But the same Ukrainian forces, aided by the US and other NATO forces, gave a tough fight to the Russian armed forces when Putin announced a ‘Special Military Operation’ against Kyiv on February 24, 2022.
With Western arms and ammunition, Ukraine launched counter-offensive strikes against Russian defenses recently but couldn’t make significant breakthroughs. Unsuccessful attacks and shortage of ammunition even prompted US President Joe Biden to announce supplying ‘cluster munitions’ for the armed forces of Ukraine. This move has been criticized even by some of the NATO allies.
Monday’s ’emergency’ is the second major attack on the Crimean Bridge since the war broke out between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022. Last year too, on October 8, a big explosion damaged a section of the 19 km-long Kerch Strait bridge, which connects the Azov Sea to the Black Sea. Russian authorities had alleged this ‘terror attack’ to be carried out by the Kyiv regime.
#BREAKING– Ukraine ATTACKS Crimean Bridge with surface drones (USVs) – Russian media
The Crimean bridge attack was carried out using unmanned drones on the water's surface, Russia's anti-terrorist committee has said.#Crimea #CrimeaBridge #KerchBridge #bridge #Ukraine #Russia pic.twitter.com/oeuYPZ9nV3
— EurAsian Times (@THEEURASIATIMES) July 17, 2023
But the ’emergency’ on the Crimean bridge coincided with the multiple aerial and semi-submersible drones on the Crimean Peninsula, which took place some hours ago on Sunday.
“This morning (Sunday), an attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack by seven unmanned aerial vehicles and two unmanned semi-submersible boats on facilities on the territory of the Crimean Peninsula near Sevastopol was foiled,” said the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
The author traveled to Crimea and stayed in Sevastopol last year in April during the media coverage of the Ukraine-Russia war. Like other places in Russia, Crimea is mesmerizing and full of European-style architecture. Sevastopol beach is full of tourists, locals, and ‘Z’ signs in support of President Putin, where one can see the movement of Russian warships close to the ‘Monument of the Sunken Ship’ and the Sukhoi fighter jets in the sky.
The monument of the Sevastopol in the Black Sea is reminiscent of the Crimean War (1853-56) in which Russia’s world-renowned author Leo Tolstoy had participated as a Lieutenant. Tolstoy is believed to have been miffed by the war. He left the army and took to writing and social-economic issues. He later wrote ‘Sevastopol Diaries’ and his classic on the Napoleon attack on Moscow (Kremlin), ‘War and Peace.’
Sevastopol is the biggest city in the Crimean Peninsula which houses the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. All the Black Sea’s Russian naval (and air) operations are controlled from here. Monday’s attack was not the first carried out using marine drones. Such attacks have occurred multiple times on Russian warships in the Black Sea or the Sevastopol harbor.
That is why the ‘unconventional warfare’ is now part of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Such attacks have become common in Crimea and the other border (Russian) towns of Belgorod and Kursk. Moscow and the Kremlin have seen drone attacks in the past few months.
Unconventional warfare generally means sabotage, guerilla fighting, quasi-military operations, or even terrorist attacks.
Damage to the Kakhovka Dam by mines last month and the resultant inundation of the Kherson region was also part of this unconventional warfare. The water supply from a canal to the Crimean Peninsula was also affected after the dam was blown up. Who had mined or blown the dam is still unclear. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of the human and environmental destruction it caused.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, after a few successes in the war, including the liberation of the Kherson town, has claimed to ‘liberate’ Crimea too from the Russian ‘annexation.’ Zelensky had clarified that “Crimea’s return to Ukraine is certain.”
While in Sevastopol, I stayed at a hotel named ‘Ukraine,’ the only Ukrainian thing I found in Crimea. Of course, I found a group of teenage girls who wanted to interact with the Indian media on the Russia-Ukraine war. But fearing a backlash, they later turned down to come on camera and instead asked the author to broadcast the (abuse) news they had told me off camera.
But those were not the only locals whom I got an interaction with. While doing a PTC (Piece To Camera) for my news channel on a roadside at the Sevastopol beach, a car came screeching, and a middle-aged man started shouting, “India is great.” The car sped away before I could ask my cameraperson to turn off the camera and interact with the person.
I still wonder if the ‘great’ word was used for Indian media that had come so far to cover the conflict or India’s ‘strategic autonomy’ during the war that it didn’t side with any of the warring countries.
Though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent France visit (July 13-14), reiterated ‘India can go to any extent’ to end the conflict.
- Neeraj Rajput is a Senior War-journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience in defense, conflict, security, strategic affairs & geopolitics.
- Please mail us at etdesk (at) eurasiantimes.com
- The author tweets at @neeraj_rajput