The Kremlin intends to show that the attack on the Crimean Bridge was not so bad and that the crucial lifeline between the Russian mainland and the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula will soon be back to normal.
Physical damage can be repaired – Russia immediately dispatched a large emergency team to the site – but damage to Russia’s prestige and, more importantly, Vladimir Putin’s image, will not be so easy to repair. to fix.
This is his bridge, his project, built with the equivalent of nearly $4 billion from the Russian treasury. It’s a symbolic “alliance” uniting Mother Russia and Ukraine, or at least a region that still legally belongs to Ukraine, crucial not only to Putin’s war effort, but also to his obsession with bringing back Ukraine under Russian control.
Putin’s address to the Russian people on February 21, delivered just before he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, laid bare his distorted view of history. Ukraine, he insists, is not really an independent country: “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us”, he asserted. “It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.”
This speech, one of the most revealing of his presidency, specifies that this fratricidal war against Ukraine is very personal to him. For many years he was obsessed with Peter the Great, the Russian Tsar who founded Saint Petersburg, the city in which Putin was born and raised. I once visited the city administration office where Putin worked in the early 1990s after returning from his job as a KGB agent in East Germany. On the wall above his desk was a portrait of Peter the Great.
In June this year, as the bitter war in Ukraine entered its fourth month, Putin again compared himself to Peter the Great, insisting that Peter, who had conquered land from Sweden, was ‘giving back’ to Russia what really belonged to her.
Putin now apparently believes that Ukraine’s return to Russia is his historic destiny. He probably views the relentless attack on the Crimean Bridge not just as an attack on the Russian homeland, but as a personal affront. And he is likely to react violently.
Already a day after the attack, Russian forces are bombing civilian apartment buildings in Ukraine. Diehard Putin supporters are calling for more strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure. Western leaders are warning that an increasingly frustrated Putin may resort to the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Military experts say it could retaliate asymmetrically, hitting unexpected targets.
For years, Putin has had another obsession: punishing traitors. A month after his forces attacked Ukraine, he threatened to retaliate against any Russians who opposed the war, calling them ‘fifth column…national traitors’ under the sway of the West .
This Sunday, the day after the attack on the bridge, he called it a “terrorist attack” whose “perpetrators, executors and masterminds” are the Ukrainian secret services… and “Russian citizens of foreign countries “.
One thing is clear: as the fighting draws closer to Russia, Vladimir Putin sees his “historic mission” in jeopardy. And that means emotions could trump reason. For Ukraine, for Russians who oppose the war and for the world, this is a dangerous moment.