10/9/2022 – War update and commentary: Examining closer the Crimean bridge attack

From Jamie Peipon: It feels like this day should be observed as a national holiday going forward. Bringing down the Crimean Bridge has been a long-term goal since its construction was completed in 2018 when the bridge was inaugurated. The rail bridge wasn’t inaugurated until 2019. The bridge was constructed when russia held sham referendums at gun point and declared that they were annexing Crimea back in 2014 (in an equally absurd manner to what has happened to other regions of Ukraine more recently). They didn’t have a land bridge to Crimea so access was only by flight or ferry. The cost of the bridge was $3.7 billion. Since construction started, this bridge has been a symbol of the frustrating way in which russia operates. It is like an unwelcome house guest that decides they’re going to install their own entrance to your home… no, thank you.

We still don’t actually know what happened. Ukraine has played coy. Zelenskyy’s statement was that “today was a good and mostly sunny day on the territory of our state. In a large area, the temperature is about 20 degrees and the sun is shining. Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Although it is also warm.” russia has said that it was a truck bomb that was crossing the bridge. Every video and photograph that’s come out has been analyzed for evidence in order to try and reconstruct the scene. Some claim they can see a boat under the bridge at the time of the explosion, others say the results of the explosion would be a lot different if that were the case. Some say it probably actually was a truck bomb, but there is footage of russian police pulling the truck over and looking into it before it crossed the bridge. The railings on the bridge also don’t seem to be flattened in the way some analysts expect. Still others are sure it was a missile attack. But Ukraine isn’t supposed to have weapons that could reach that range. Opinion and “evidence” abound.

The russian government claims that the bridge is already operational. There have been some pictures of cars coming across. But even the state media is hedging by saying that the road span has a current capacity of 2.5 metric tons. For reference, three little Honda Civics like I drive would surpass the capacity. Just one of russia’s main battle tanks is over 40 tons. Even an empty 18-wheeler weighs close to 16 tons. The bottom line is that even if russia is telling the truth about the capacity, the road portion won’t be used for supplies any time soon.

The rail of the bridge is another story. Rail lines are the most important part of russia’s logistics lines and russia says that one of the two rail lines in the bridge is back to full operation. They released a nighttime video of a moving train and claim that it was running on the bridge. It is impossible to know anything based on that video. What we do know is that the bridge is mostly steel which begins to develop problems when heated. The train cars were burning for several hours this morning. As I’m sure you all will remember from high school science, steel maintains about 50% strength when heated up to 600°C. At 1,200°C it loses its trademark stability. Its melting point is 1,500°C. We don’t know what kind of fuel (diesel, gasoline, kerosene, etc.) was burning on the bridge but the fire’s temperature was likely between 1,000-1,400°C. Math has never been my strong suit, but that doesn’t seem to add up to good news for the bridge. Of course, there are also stability concerns with the concrete.

Regardless of what happened on the physics level, there are consequences of this event. There is a psychological element for sure. It is a boon to Ukrainians around the world and on the front lines. The reverse is true of russians… it is yet another loss and hurts morale on the front. Whether or not it was a Ukrainian military strike, this event will at least make people think “the Ukrainians can hit us wherever we are on their territory.”

Lastly, a word on empty threats: When Finland and Sweden said they were applying to join NATO, russian officials said that the move would bring “serious military and political consequences.” Nothing has happened. There were lots of threats about what would happen if attacks targeted places on what russia considers its own land. Belgorod (which actually is russia) and the air base in Saki, Crimea (which is not russia, but they consider it so) have been attacked and nothing has really changed. The former president and prime minister of russia said, “In the event of an attack on Crimea, the day of judgment will come.” He also said specifically about the Crimean bridge that “If something like this [an attack] happens, all hell will break loose. It is very fast and tough. It will be very difficult to hide.” There could still be a response to all of these things, but it seems telling that none of this has happened. We ought to keep this in mind when russia continues to make all kinds of threats.

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

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