Russian troops have restored a piece of Ukrainian infrastructure vital to the “land bridge” Moscow plans to build to connect Russian territory to the Crimean peninsula: a canal that supplies water from southern Ukraine to the peninsula, according to satellite images and a statement on Tuesday by Kremlin Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu.
For years, the 250-mile northern Crimean Canal had channeled water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the arid Crimean peninsula. Built by thousands of construction workers from across the Soviet Union, it was a marvel of engineering, dropping about an inch for every mile during the first half of its length to keep the water flowing.
That all changed after Russia, under President Vladimir V. Putin, annexed the peninsula in 2014.
Ukraine responded by damming the canal with bags of sand and clay to prevent the now Russian-occupied peninsula from taking advantage of the valuable freshwater. Instead of flowing into Crimea, the water in the canal was used to irrigate the melon fields and peach orchards of Ukraine’s Kherson region, in northern Crimea.
Ukrainian officials said cutting off the water was one of the few levers at their disposal to hurt Moscow after the annexation without using military force.
For the Kremlin, blocking the canal was a tedious and expensive challenge. The inhabitants of Crimea began to suffer from chronic water shortages, and now and then the taps were turned off.
In early 2021, as Mr Putin gathered troops on the Ukrainian border in preparation for the invasion, some analysts speculated that restoring water flow in the canal could have been a key objective for Moscow.
Russian engineers blew open the dam in late February, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and captured the area around Kherson.
Satellite images reviewed by DailyExpertNews show that water is now flowing through parts of the canal that have been dry since 2014.