Putin crosses a bridge too far in writ­ing off West

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD -

This week, Vladimir Putin of­fi­cially opened the re­cently con­structed Kerch Strait Bridge that the Rus­sian pres­i­dent com­mis­sioned to con­nect the newly-an­nexed Crimean Penin­sula to the Rus­sian main­land. To com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion, Mr. Putin led a con­voy of new trucks across the $3 bil­lion, 12-mile bridge, the long­est span in Europe.

Just in case you were won­der­ing, the Rus­sian state news agency TASS re­ported that Mr. Putin did have a truck driv­ing li­cense. He man­aged to keep his shirt on as he pro­claimed “Let’s hit the road!” and jumped into the cab of the lead truck to start the pro­ces­sion.

This episode puts an ex­cla­ma­tion point on one of Mr. Putin’s most con­se­quen­tial de­ci­sions — the an­nex­a­tion of the strategic penin­sula jet­ting out into the Black Sea. The de­ci­sion to seize “Krim,” as it is pro­nounced in Rus­sian and Ukrainian, marked the be­gin­ning of the end of any faint hopes the Putin gov­ern­ment wanted a re­la­tion­ship with the West.

The bridge not only con­nected the for­mer part of Ukraine to Rus­sia, but also shut off Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov from large ships. Ship­ping ex­perts say 30 per­cent of the mar­itime traf­fic that used to visit Mar­i­upol and Berdyansk will now be re­stricted from en­ter­ing. I’ve been to Mar­i­upol and spent sig­nif­i­cant time in this his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant mer­can­tile port, his­tor­i­cally a thriv­ing ship­ping link to the old world of Cen­tral Asia. Now it is black­ened by the soot from the nearby steel plant, and the wa­ter pol­luted. The reduction in ship­ping traf­fic will only worsen the out­look for this eco­nom­i­cally re­pressed re­gion.

Mil­i­tary strate­gists worry that Mr. Putin would at­tempt to ac­quire a “land bridge” to shorten Rus­sian sup­ply routes to the newly-seized ter­ri­tory, rel­e­gated to ferry or air links only. With the bridge, that point in now moot.

The in­vest­ment of $3.2 bil­lion for the bridge is no small amount for the ane­mic Rus­sian econ­omy, still suf­fer­ing un­der Western sanc­tions, although the ro­bust re­bound in oil prices on in­ter­na­tional mar­kets will ac­tu­ally help. Hav­ing just been elected to an­other six-year term, Pres­i­dent Putin has made many prom­ises to the Rus­sian pub­lic, mainly fo­cused on so­cial spend­ing and do­mes­tic pri­or­i­ties. The fact that the bridge was built any­way means the spend­ing was de­lib­er­ate and in­tended to make a very clear point.

That point: To con­firm to the world that Rus­sia has no de­sire to move back into the good graces of Brus­sels and Wash­ing­ton. The Krem­lin is done wait­ing for some type of de­tente with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The im­age of Mr. Putin driv­ing across the bridge says to the world Rus­sia is now firmly in the camp with China, Iran, North Korea and Syria in their re­fusal to fit into the “Western” po­lit­i­cal model, and their de­sire to fash­ion a new axis to chal­lenge the West mil­i­tar­ily and eco­nom­i­cally. Pres­i­dent Trump, along with all of the other issues on his plate as he cleans up the mess of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, can add the Kerch Strait Bridge chal­lenge to his list. It is com­mon knowl­edge that Mr. Putin has in­flu­ence with North Korea, and Moscow’s new ally, China. In to­day’s world, all the re­gional con­flicts are re­lated.

Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner colum­nist Tom Ro­gan is openly en­cour­ag­ing Ukraine — backed by the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary — to at­tack the bridge from the air, ar­gu­ing that the ca­su­al­ties would be “min­i­mized” if done at the right time. Noth­ing like a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Amer­i­can me­dia, who has never served, calling for a war with the world’s largest nu­clear power. I’m sure he’s will­ing to en­list straight away to help make this hap­pen.

By the way, his com­ments didn’t go down well in Rus­sia.

● L. Todd Wood is a for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions he­li­copter pi­lot and Wall Street debt trader, and has con­trib­uted to Fox Busi­ness, The Moscow Times, Na­tional Review, the New York Post and many other publi­ca­tions. He can be reached through his web­site, LTod­dWood.com.

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