Russian forces have restored a piece of Ukrainian infrastructure vital to the “land bridge” that Moscow seeks to establish linking 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 the Kremlin’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu.
For years, the 250-mile-long Northern Crimean Canal had channeled water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the arid peninsula of Crimea. Built by thousands of construction workers from across the Soviet Union, it was a marvel of engineering, dropping about an inch for every mile for the first half of its length to keep the water flowing.
All that 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 benefiting from the valuable freshwater. Instead of flowing to Crimea, the water in the canal was used to irrigate the melon fields and peach orchards of Ukraine’s Kherson region, to Crimea’s north.
Ukrainian officials said that cutting off the water was one of the few levers at their disposal to inflict pain on Moscow after the annexation without using military force.
For the Kremlin, the blockage of the canal was a vexing and expensive challenge. Crimea’s residents began to suffer chronic water shortages and occasional shut-offs at the tap.
In early 2021, as Mr. Putin massed troops on the Ukrainian border in preparation for the invasion, some analysts speculated that restoring the flow of water in the canal might have been a major objective for Moscow.
Russian engineers blew open the dam in late February, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and took control of the area around Kherson.
Satellite imagery reviewed by The New York Times shows that water is now flowing through parts of the canal that had been dry since 2014.