Russia’s leadership claimed that its desired strategic land bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula to the Donbass region in Ukraine has been achieved.
The Russian military said Tuesday that roads and railways between western Russia and Crimea are now complete, according to state-run media.
“Conditions have been created for the resumption of full-fledged traffic between Russia, Donbass, Ukraine, and Crimea on six railway sections,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement. “Automobile communication has been opened from the territory of Russia along the mainland to Crimea.”
Shoigu also stated that the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, the latter city destroyed after a 3-month Russian siege, had resumed their operations.
“The de-mining of Mariupol’s port has been completed. It is functioning normally, and has received its first cargo ships,” Shoigu said in televised comments.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that one of the current goals of Russia is to create the desired “land bridge” that links the two regions. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is also “determined to build a land bridge to Russian-controlled territory in Moldova,” located to the west of Ukraine, Haines remarked during her testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We assess President Putin is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbass,” Haines added, claiming the United States has “indications that the Russian military wants to extend the land bridge to Transnistria,” a separatist region in Moldova that backs Moscow.
Also on Tuesday, Russia said that Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov seized by Russian forces were ready to resume grain shipments, but the Kremlin said Kyiv still needed to demine the approaches to its ports for exports to take place.
Russia has seized large parts of Ukraine’s coast in nearly 15 weeks of war and its warships control the Black and Azov Seas, blocking Ukraine’s farm exports and driving up the price of grain.
Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of weaponizing food supplies. Russia blames the situation on what it says are Ukrainian mines, and on international sanctions against its own economy.
But during remarks reported by Russian state media, Shoigu said that grain exports are “functioning normally” at the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, a city that has seen heavy fighting and shelling since the start of the war in late February.
“On behalf of the Supreme Commander, we are ready to load grain in these ports,” Shoigu said.
Reuters contributed to this report.