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KYIV, Ukraine – A massive explosion occurred on the Crimea Bridge, a vital strategic link between mainland Russia and Crimea, in a surprise blow to a symbol of President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to control Ukraine on Saturday morning.
Damage to the bridge that provided road and rail connections from Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula to the illegally occupied Kremlin in 2014 is another serious blow to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine by disrupting a vital supply route.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that the government did not yet have a definite deadline for repairing the 12-mile bridge.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, a top law enforcement body, said a truck explosion had set fuel tankers on fire as a goods train crossed the bridge. The cause of the truck explosion was not immediately clear. A plume of smoke and flames could be clearly seen from afar after the explosion.
Putin personally opened the $4 billion bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge as it spans the Kerch Strait between the Black and Azov Seas, in 2018 – a move aimed at ceding Russia’s ownership of Crimea. is a symbol.
Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 and its illegal occupation of Crimea was a precursor to an invasion launched this year by Putin, in which Crimea has been used as a major base of operations for Russian forces. Russia now claims to have annexed four other Ukrainian territories.
The explosion was celebrated in Kyiv, where government officials applauded the incident and posted photos on social media of the collapsed concrete span of the bridge and footage of the apparent moment of the explosion, seconds before a huge fireball engulfed it. Vehicles were shown driving across the bridge. region.
Mykhailo Podoloyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, called it “the beginning”. “Everything illegal must be destroyed,” Podolik added on Twitter. The Ukrainian government did not immediately provide an official statement on the cause of the explosion. But in a taunt, the government’s official Twitter account posted: “I’ll burn.”
A Ukrainian government official told The Washington Post on Saturday that Ukrainian special services were behind the bridge attack. The Ukrainska Pravda news site first reported the government’s role, citing an unnamed law enforcement official who said Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU, was involved.
Ukraine has previously carried out bold strikes in Russian-held territory, including an air base in Crimea and military bases across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region. But if the bridge blast is confirmed to go as planned, it would be the most surprise strike ever by Ukraine, which has been under attack by Russia’s much larger and better-equipped army since late February.
Russian officials said the explosion happened around 6 a.m. local time. A video posted by the state newspaper Izvestia shows it at 6:03 am.
The inquiry committee later said that preliminary information suggests that three people had died in the incident, including the driver of the truck that exploded and two people whose bodies were recovered from the water.
The investigative committee said that the driver of the truck has been identified as a resident of Krasnodar Territory, Russia. “Investigation has started at his residence,” it said. “The route of the truck and related documents are being studied.”
Russian officials have warned of severe retaliation for attacks on Russian territory.
The explosion injected a new element of tension into the war at a time when Putin and those around him have repeatedly warned that Russia could use nuclear weapons. President Biden warned of a possible nuclear “Armageddon” this week, prompting heightened alarm in the United States, which has the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal after Russia.
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, tweeted a photo of the damaged bridge and said: “@Crimea, long time no see” accompanied by a heart emoji. And the head of Ukraine’s postal service said the agency would issue a new stamp showing a damaged bridge: “Crimean Bridge – Done.”
Peskov said Putin had been briefed by ministers and government officials about the “emergency” on the bridge and called for the establishment of a commission, including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, officials in Crimea, and the FSB, Russia’s Security Service, to investigate the incident. had ordered. ,
According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Peskov said, “the commission is directed to find out the causes of the accident and eliminate the consequences as soon as possible.”
Peskov told state-controlled news agency Riya Novosti, “there was no forecast on the timing of the reconstruction” of the bridge. Russian Railways canceled all passenger service to and from Crimea and said that tickets would be refunded at no charge.
The investigative committee said it had opened a criminal case in connection with the accident on the Crimea bridge and sent forensic experts to the scene.
Russian officials tried to allay fears that the incident would lead to a shortage of fuel, food, and other essentials in Crimea, noting that Russia’s military annexation had resulted in Putin’s long-sought “land for Crimea”. bridge” was built.
Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razozayev initially cited a rush to buy gasoline and announced a limit on grocery purchases of three kilograms per person, or three packs of products, but later said the restrictions had been lifted.
The head of the Crimean region, Sergei Aksyonov, said that the reconstruction of the bridge would begin as soon as the investigation was completed.
The bridge is the only direct road and rail connection from mainland Russia to Crimea. And crippling such a major artery would affect Russia’s ability to reinforce and resupply its troops as Ukraine mounts a retaliation to reclaim occupied territory in the southern Kherson region.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have intensified their advance into towns and villages seized by Russia, in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Donetsk in the east, and Kherson in the south.
Russia’s defense ministry said Russian forces in the north of Crimea would receive “continued support”.
According to Riya Novosti, the Ministry of Defense said, “the Russian group of soldiers involved in the special military operation in the Mykolaiv-Krivorozsk and Zaporozhsk operational directions are constantly supplied by land corridors and partly by sea transport.”
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