An explosion tore through the Russian bridge that crosses the Kerch Strait into Crimea on Saturday morning, killing at least three people and severely damaging its structure in a major blow to Vladimir Putin more than seven months after his invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s anti-terror committee said a truck exploded at the roadside of the bridge in the early hours of Saturday morning, setting fire to seven fuel tanks on the railway bridge that runs alongside it.
Russia’s president, Putin, has ordered officials to step up security measures on the bridge and investigate the explosion, which sent huge clouds of smoke into the sky as a fire raged, caused two road sections of the bridge to collapse and burned part of the railway.
The 12-mile bridge was devised when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and was completed in 2018. It’s a feat of engineering: The Wehrmacht and Red Army tried and failed to cross the waters between the peninsula and the Russian mainland during World War II. World War. war, and had become a symbol of Russian prestige.
It is a key artery for shipping, as it spans the routes connecting export ports on the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea. It is also a major conduit for supplying Russia’s war effort in southeastern Ukraine, where its troops have withdrawn substantially in the past week from territory Putin claimed as Russian after annexing four Ukrainian regions.
The apparent attack is a further humiliation for Russia as its invasion of Ukraine, originally designed to capture Kyiv in a matter of days, continues to fight on.
Ukrainian officials did not claim responsibility, but welcomed the bridge collapse.
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning,” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, while posting a photo of the bridge falling into the sea.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled.”
Ukraine’s post office said it would issue a commemorative stamp superimposing a scene from the movie Titanic on an image of the burning bridge.
The SBU, Ukraine’s main security service, tweeted a rewritten stanza of a poem by Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s most famous author, hinting at its involvement. “Dawn, the bridge burns beautifully. A nightingale in Crimea meets the SBU,” the agency wrote.
Russian authorities said damage to the bridge was negligible and reopened it to road and rail traffic on Saturday afternoon. The Defense Ministry claimed that it could supply troops in mainland Ukraine by land and sea, bypassing Crimea.
Local Russian officials relaunched passenger ferry links and said Crimea would retain easy access to the Russian mainland, saying supplies of basic goods and gasoline were secure.
In the Kherson region, which links Crimea to the mainland, where Russia has made its biggest withdrawals in the past week, the Putin-appointed interim governor said officials would temporarily evacuate children, their parents and the elderly to mainland Russia.” while the perimeter is cleaned. .
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not directly blame Kyiv for the blast, but said Ukraine’s cheerful reaction indicated the “terrorist nature” of the government.
Putin has shown no indication that he is seeking an end to the war. Hours after the attack, the Defense Ministry said it had promoted Sergei Surovikin, the head of Russia’s air force, as the top commander of Russia’s invasion efforts.
Although Surovikin notably failed to establish air superiority in the war, he is known for his role at the forefront of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, including the air assault that destroyed the city of Aleppo.
Lawmakers from Kremlin-controlled opposition parties and prominent commentators on state television, who have played an influential role in pushing Putin to step up Russia’s efforts in the conflict, called on the Kremlin to retaliate.
“There will be no more sanctions! They can’t say any worse! We have to do our thing and finish what we started. There is no way back! It’s time to respond!” tweeted Sergei Mironov, head of the A Just Russia party.
But Putin made no public statement, while other officials assured the Russians that the bridge would soon be operating normally.
Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, told reporters Moscow’s response should be “tough” but “not necessarily to the fore.”
A Ukrainian official told Western diplomats in Kyiv seeking information about the explosion that the country’s military had evidence that fuel tanks on the railway bridge were headed for a military depot.
The official stopped short of taking credit for the attack, a diplomat said, but the claim implies that the Ukrainian government considered the fuel tanks to be a military target and therefore a legitimate one.
“No one knows who did it and the Ukrainians have not claimed it,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the FT.
“Any escalation in a war is cause for concern, so we have to be very careful,” Borrell added. “I am sure that Putin could never imagine this, at the beginning of the war. But this is new, an interstate war with a nuclear power.”
Additional reporting by Henry Foy and Valentina Pop in Brussels and John Paul Rathbone and Christopher Miller in London