It is hard to overstate the significance of this moment.
As symbols go, hitting the Kerch Bridge which connects mainland Russia to illegally annexed Crimea is the equivalent of flicking two fingers at Vladimir Putin and his territorial pretensions. The day after his 70th birthday too, which the Ukrainian memosphere is relishing.
It is as much of a prestige blow as losing the Moskva warship back in March – though the fact these memorable images of the bridge in flames are already reverberating across Russian media will bring this attack home to the public in a way the Moskva’s loss did not.
It could be a turning point too because, from the Russian perspective, it demands a response. This is, after all, Crimea. It is where Russians holidayed in Soviet times and where, since 2014, they holiday now. It holds a special place in the heart of many Russians which is why the annexation was so wildly popular.
Margarita Simonyan, head of state-run RT whose sole occupation these days seems to be propounding on the talkshow circuit, said just one word on her telegram channel this morning: “And?”
Vladimir Putin has some decisions to make.
His troops are in retreat on the battlefield. First came Ukraine’s stunning victories around Kharkiv, then an unravelling around Kherson, now the Kerch bridge.
This hit signals Ukraine’s intention to recapture Crimea proper, still a far-off ambition for now but one Volodomyr Zelenskyy has made clear he intends to realise and which is beginning to look at least slightly less far-fetched.
The calls from across the Russian patriotic establishment are growing louder.
“The special military operation is OVER. It’s time to FIGHT”, tweeted loyalist lawmaker Sergei Mironov. “There is no way back!”
But just what does Putin do? Partial mobilisation has not gone down well in Russia and may simply prolong rather than win him the fight.
Full mobilisation and a declaration of war will be less popular still and again, may not make the difference in terms of reversing his fortunes – although calling it what it is and imposing some kind of martial law, at least around the border regions, may give the pretence of dealing with what Russia deems the Ukrainian “terrorist threat”.
So then he is left with his nastier options.
As the US President said on Friday, with his troops “significantly underperforming”, Vladimir Putin could resort to nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
He could decide to take aim at Kyiv. He could take steps which really would risk wider conflagration.
He is being egged on domestically, he – or at least his defence minister – is being criticised domestically, and he has few ways out of this awful quagmire he has dug for himself on his next-door neighbour’s territory.
It will not end well.