Waiting Until Russia’s New Strategic Supply Bridge Was Almost Built, Then Blowing It Up With Rockets

David Axe


Jan 8, 2024


This weekend, an apparent Ukrainian rocket barrage reportedly blew up a rail bridge Russian workers were building south of Hranitne, 25 miles north of the Sea of Azov coast and 50 miles south of the front line in occupied southeastern Ukraine.

It’s one of the biggest under-reported events in months in a grinding war where logistics are everything. In reportedly dropping the incomplete span over the Kalmius River, Ukraine sets back—indeed, makes a mockery of—Russia’s efforts to improve its supply lines to its beleaguered forces in and around Crimea in southern Ukraine.

“The Ukrainians just shot a hole in a major Russian logistics initiative, and set back almost a half year of serious Russian supply planning,” wrote Stefan Korsha, a senior defense correspondent at Kyiv Post.

The Russian military has three ways of moving large quantities of supplies from Russia proper to Russian forces in southern Ukraine: by ship into Crimea, by road and rail over the Kerch Bridge directly into Crimea, and by rail through southeastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainians have been attacking all three main supply lines ever since Russia widened its war on Ukraine starting in February 2022.

Ukrainian missiles and drone boats have damaged or sunk most of the Russian fleet’s supplies-hauling landing ships and made Crimean ports very dangerous for the surviving vessels. Ukrainian bombs and missiles repeatedly have damaged the Kerch Bridge.

And the main overland railway repeatedly loops north toward the front line, placing it well within range of Ukrainian howitzers. It’s no problem for Ukrainian gunners to strike passing trains or the rail lines themselves.

These attacks motivated the Russians to begin building a fourth supply line—a coastal railway that, while still within range of Ukraine’s rocket-artillery and deep-strike munitions, at least would get the trains out from under the howitzer barrages.

But that new railway must cross the Kalmius River, which threads south through Hranitne before dumping into the Sea of Azov in the ruins of the coastal city of Mariupol, under Russian occupation since early in the wider war.

Russian workers began building the Hranitne bridge in earnest in September 2023. The span may have been nearing completion when the Ukrainians finally targeted it, apparently this weekend and reportedly with 50-mile-range M30/31 GPS-guided rockets fired by U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems wheeled launchers: the vaunted HIMARS.

There was no reason the Ukrainians couldn’t have attacked earlier, Korsha pointed out.

“Anyone wishing to poke fun at Russian army decision-making would probably see a major Russian military engineering effort throwing a rail bridge over a river fully in range of Ukrainian precision-guided munitions, adjacent to a Ukrainian town the Russians had been mortaring and firing machine guns into for the last eight years, as less than brilliant planning,” he wrote.

“Those of you biased against the Kremlin might even see a [Ukrainian] sense of humor and timing in waiting a full five months [into the] bridge construction before smacking down the bridge and putting the Russian bridge-builders back to square one.”

Every strike on Russian supply lines into southern Ukraine—the established ones and the new one the Kremlin frantically is building—squeezes and starves the Russian regiments and brigades in the south, and helps to explain why thousands of Russian troops in southern Kherson Oblast still can’t destroy a bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro River that’s held by just a few hundred Ukrainian marines.