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Russia Ukraine War

Russia’s New Crimea Railway Fuels Tensions as Ukraine Targets Rail Officials

Tensions are spiking as a strategic railway project snakes its way through occupied Ukrainian territory, nearing completion by year’s end. This land route bypasses the vulnerable Crimean Bridge and delivers crucial supplies directly to Russia’s doorstep.

But Ukraine is pushing back. In a bold move, Kyiv has charged four high-ranking Russian railway officials for facilitating the movement of military supplies, aiming to disrupt Russia’s war effort at its logistical heart.

Russian armoured train (Source: Evgeniy Biyatov/RIA Novosti)

Putin’s Strategic Railway Route

Putin’s initiative to establish a railway link through southern Ukraine represents a strategic move with far-reaching implications. The announcement, made at a concert celebrating the annexation of Crimea, is seen by analysts as a strategic move to bolster Russia’s military presence in the region.

Reports from Russian media suggest that freight trains have been operational on the new Azov Sea route since March 15th, with full functionality expected by the end of 2024.

Unlike the Kerch Bridge, which has been a target of Ukrainian attacks and serves as the sole connection between Crimea and Russia, this new land route offers distinct logistical advantages. Despite its proximity to the conflict zone, the railway provides an alternative, potentially less vulnerable pathway.

In the event of disruption, repairing a damaged railway is typically quicker and easier compared to major bridge repairs. Additionally, the new route offers a significant reduction in travel distance, slashing the journey by 200 kilometres and facilitating the swift movement of personnel and supplies.

Infographic showing the old rail road in blue and new road in red from Rostov-On-Don to Dzhankoi (Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta)

A Challenge for Ukraine’s Defence

Kirill Budanov, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said, “Russia has actually been building a railway for more than a year. This process is almost complete and this could pose a serious problem for us.”

Ukrainian experts stress the urgency of neutralising the railway threat. Dmitry Pletenchuk, speaker of the Naval Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told media, “The railway along the ‘land corridor’ is actually a recognition on the part of the Russian occupiers that the Crimean Bridge is doomed. They are looking for a way to hedge their bets because they are aware that sooner or later, they will have a problem.”

Additionally, Sergei Brachuk, a military spokesperson, highlighted the importance of disrupting enemy logistics, stating, “This is a big target for our Defense Forces. Logistics is the enemy’s resource. It is necessary to complete the task of destroying it, because this resource allows Russia today to wage war in one breath. We need to wear down the enemy.”

Echoing Ukraine’s anxieties, Western experts like Michael Clarke, a researcher at the Royal United Nations Institute for Defense Studies, point to the new railway as a potential sign of Russia’s logistical preparation for a future offensive in 2025.

Ukraine would need more powerful missiles specifically designed to take down railroad bridges. One option is the German Taurus missile, a long-range weapon used to destroy the Kerch Bridge. However, Germany has been reluctant in supplying them to Ukraine to avoid escalation outside of the conflict borders. 

Train on Crimean Bridge (Source: Grand Service Express on Facebook)

Ukraine Strikes Back: Charges Russian Rail Officials

In a move highlighting the critical role of logistics in modern warfare, Ukrainian authorities, under the guidance of the Prosecutor General’s Office, have charged four high-ranking Russian railway officials with facilitating the movement of military supplies for the war effort.

According to investigators, “The suspects ensured the rapid and unhindered transportation of personnel, ammunition, military equipment and other cargo for the armed forces of the Russian Federation by railway transport. With such actions, they provided the top leadership of the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union with the means to remove obstacles in waging an aggressive war against Ukraine.”

These charges, targeting individuals like the head of the Federal Railway Transport Agency, highlight the potential impact of disrupting an enemy’s supply chains. This strategic move suggests Ukrainian authorities are prioritising efforts to cripple Russia’s logistical capabilities, potentially aiming to hinder the flow of supplies not only to the existing frontlines but also to Crimea.

Ukraine Faces Pivotal Moment

As Ukraine braces for the consequences of Putin’s railway project, the stakes have never been higher. Putin’s railway project symbolises Russia’s assertive posture in the region and its determination to consolidate control over Crimea and southern Ukraine.

Countering Russia’s potential offensive hinges on Ukraine’s ability to swiftly disrupt their resupply efforts and safeguard its sovereignty.

Val Dockrell is a London-based Senior Investigator and Open Source Intelligence (“OSINT”) specialist who has led in-depth investigations in multiple jurisdictions around the world. She also speaks several languages and is a member of the Fraud Women’s Network. Her X (formerly Twitter) handle is @ValDockrell.