An underwater tunnel between Crimea and Russia will be “an immortal umbilical cord”, but could the Kremlin develop its “secret plan”?

Communications intercepted by Ukrainian secret services show that several Russian and Chinese companies have been holding secret meetings since October with the aim of building an underwater tunnel linking Crimea and Russia.

Crimea was the first Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia and a key geostrategic point for “special military operations” in Ukraine, connected to Russian territory by the Kerch Bridge – the strait that separates the Sea of ​​Azov from the Black Sea. This suspended infrastructure has already been the target of several Ukrainian attacks, and now news has emerged that companies linked to the Kremlin and Chinese companies are developing a secret project aimed at building an underwater tunnel between the two shores, but that’s understandable. A project of this scale in an intense war situation? Why is Moscow ready to make another financial venture worth billions of euros?

Paulo Mathias Ramos, coordinator of the Geotechnical Special Commission of the Order of Engineers, believes that the construction of an underwater tunnel between Russian soil and the Crimean peninsula through the Kerch Strait is a “perfectly feasible job”. The Kremlin’s secret plan would be continued attacks and boycotts by the Kiev military.

“Think about the English Channel tunnel, about 50 kilometers long and more than 170 meters deep”, recalls Mathias Ramos, considering that the depth of the Kerch Strait does not go beyond 20 meters below the sea. Line and the length of this section should be about 15 kilometers.

The closest points between the shores of the Kerch Strait are 15 kilometers apart (Source: Google Maps)

What changed for the Kremlin to want to build an underwater tunnel?

From a strategic point of view, Major General Isidro de Morais Pereira thinks that this Russo-Chinese plan will create an “indestructible umbilical cord” between Moscow and Crimea, which Russia desperately needs and always aims for. “I don’t know of any type of ammunition capable of reaching an underwater tunnel at such a depth,” recalls the expert, adding that the Kerch Bridge – currently the most direct and shortest link between Russia and Crimea – already exists. The Ukrainians and the Kremlin knew that, with the imminent arrival of F-16 fighter jets and eventually German Taurus cruise missiles, it was “just a matter of time before the Kerch Bridge was destroyed.”

“Russia knows it’s only a matter of time before the Kerch bridge is destroyed, it wants to maintain an umbilical cord to Crimea and shows it is ready to lose control of the Donbass faster than the Crimean peninsula,” recalled Isidro de Morais Pereira.

Isidro de Morais Pereira argues that the Kremlin’s covert plan can be understood as a Russian response to the arrival of Western-supplied F-16 fighter jets in Ukraine, a sign that Moscow is preparing for a protracted war. Due to its geostrategic position, the Crimean peninsula would be the last Ukrainian territory Russia would want to lose.

How long does it take to build an underwater tunnel in the middle of a war?

Paulo Mathias Ramos from the Order of Engineers, who does not risk a certain deadline, warns that this will not be a project that will be completed in the near future, but remembers that if the Channel Tunnel takes more than six years in calm conditions, it is a task that should only be completed in a period of at least more than three years, however, this period is a It is nothing more than a relative estimate and cautions that the conditions inherent in war are extremely uncertain.

Major General Isidro de Morais Pereira said that infrastructure of this scale was not built in a serious war situation and uses the Channel Tunnel as a temporary reference – it is about 50 kilometers long and was built without any war event. In its immediate vicinity – to ensure that this will be a project for many years.

It’s sure to be another expensive venture for the Kremlin’s coffers: “These are always over two billion euros,” says Paulo Mathias Ramos, adding that at today’s prices, “the price of the Kremlin tunnel. The English Channel would be about 200 or 300 million per kilometer”.

The Sea of ​​Azov – separated from the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait – is characterized by shallow depth, and this is an advantage for this type of work, explains Paulo Mathias Ramos. Considering the topography of the area, the expert explains that there are two options for constructing this underwater tunnel: a false tunnel or a tunnel dug under the water bed.

The false tunnel option is a more economical and faster solution, but requires the use of larger vessels. In this type of work, a large trench is dug, which is then sunk and prefabricated reinforced concrete structures are connected to each other, called a tunnel. However, Mathias Ramos warns that in the case of the Kerch Strait there is a parallel that can make this practice impossible: “These operate with many boats, which means they are always vulnerable to Ukrainian boycotts”.

A second hypothesis involves the use of a tunnel boring machine – a large machine typically used in tunnel excavation – that starts digging an underwater tunnel on one bank until it reaches the opposite bank, always under the channel bed. This is a more expensive and lengthy process than the false tunnel option, however, it is exempt from Ukrainian aggression or boycott.

Subway machine used by the Lisbon City Council in implementing the Lisbon Public Drainage Project (Source: Camâra Municipal de Lisboa)

And there is another hypothesis using manual work, but for this reason, it is not possible today. Paulo Mathias Ramos remembers that, in any case, these are just theoretical scenarios and any decision affecting the costs and delay of the work must take into account the terrain and the type of soil in question.

“This is another tunnel, but carried out in a war situation, where the costs can be greatly increased and the completion is delayed due to omissions. Given the current reality of the region, it will enter the top 5 of the largest constructions carried out in a war situation,” explains the coordinator of the Geotechnical Special Commission of the Order of Engineers.

“It’s a great piece of engineering work, but it’s much easier to implement in calmer conditions.”

What will happen to the “unbreakable umbilical cord” between Russia and Crimea?

With the construction of an underwater tunnel between Crimea and Russian territory, the Moscow Armada will now have an “indestructible” logistical route, as highlighted by Isidro de Morais Pereira, in which the only vulnerabilities are the entrance and exit of the underwater passage. A place where the Kremlin should “position its best anti-aircraft weapons”.

CNN Portugal’s military expert and commentator recalled that there were no Ukrainian weapons capable of reaching and causing significant damage to such infrastructure, built under a 20-meter canal bed. depth.

North American newspaper The Washington PostCiting the content of communications intercepted by Ukrainian secret services, it revealed on Friday the existence of a secret plan between Chinese and Russian companies (linked to the Kremlin) aimed at building an underwater tunnel between Russia and the occupied part of the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine.

The talks began in October and were prompted by Russian concerns about the weaknesses of the Kerch Strait bridge. Critical infrastructure for Moscow’s logistics effort and it has already been hit by Ukrainian explosions on two occasions.

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