A bridge to Crimea is a vital Russian link, and a potential Ukrainian target.
When explosions rang out over the Kerch Strait bridge overnight into Friday, the social media accounts of people closely tracking the war lit up in a frenzy of activity.
Was the bridge, a vital link connecting Russia to Crimea, under attack?
On Friday, the bridge appeared undamaged. Russian officials said that a drone had triggered air defense systems and that a drone had been shot out of the sky. The Ukrainian government had no official comment.
But the episode focused attention on one of the most closely watched potential targets in Ukraine’s sights as Kyiv steps up a campaign to sow chaos and disrupt Moscow’s ability to sustain its war machine.
As the number of explosions at critical Russian sites in Crimea has mounted in recent days, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said this week that the bridge was a legitimate target.
“This bridge is an illegal object, permission for the construction of which was not given by Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter. “It harms the peninsula’s ecology and therefore must be dismantled. Not important how — voluntary or not.”
The bridge’s destruction would be one of the most significant blows Ukraine could inflict on Moscow because it would sever the single overland route to bring supplies from Russia to its bases in Crimea.
It would also certainly infuriate the Kremlin. In recent weeks, Moscow has stepped up countermeasures to defend the structure. It has deployed a target ship — replete with an array of radar reflectors — to protect the bridge from attack and has run drills to cover the bridge with a smoke screen.
After video of the explosions above the bridge began spreading on social media, local officials said that the structure’s defensive systems had done their job.
“Preliminary information: The antiaircraft defense systems have worked in Kerch,” Oleg Kryuchkov, a top adviser to the Russian proxy government in Crimea, said in a statement. “There is no danger to the town or the Crimean Bridge.”
His statement could not be independently verified, and it remained unclear what was happening around the bridge.
As well as military value, the structure holds deep symbolic significance for the Kremlin. After illegally annexing Crimea in 2014, Moscow vowed to physically connect the peninsula to Russia.
For a century, talks of building a bridge across the strait — which runs between two mountain ranges, creating a fierce wind tunnel — had failed to result in action. But Mr. Putin put his weight behind the project, despite that and other engineering challenges, which include a seabed covered with some 250 feet of fine silt deposited by the alluvial flow from various rivers.
During World War II, an ice floe unleashed during the spring thaw toppled a German military bridge that been hastily constructed across the waters to aid the Nazi war effort.
In 2018, when the new bridge was opened, Mr. Putin personally drove a truck along the 12-mile span. In a speech at the time, he hailed it a “remarkable” achievement that, he said, referring to a major city on the peninsula, “makes Crimea and legendary Sevastopol even stronger, and all of us are even closer to each other.”
But after explosions at the Saki airfield on Crimea this month, the bridge served a different purpose: It was a quick escape route as the war came to the peninsula, with more than 38,000 cars crossing in one day, the most recorded since Mr. Putin declared it open.